Judges’ associations, joint statement on justice reform: “It seems more like an election promise”
The Association of Judges of Moldova and the Association of Judges “Voice of Justice” issued a joint statement announcing their “concern” about the concept of judicial reform proposed by the Government, in the part referring to the extraordinary external evaluation of judges, the so-called “vetting” of judges, saying it is “not appropriate” for Moldova. Thus, the judges’ associations “express their concern about the excessive politicisation of this reform concept and the draft laws proposed for adoption as a matter of urgency”.
“At the moment in Moldova there is a parliamentary majority (63 deputies) of one party in the Parliament. This is the same party that formed the Government and the President of the Republic of Moldova is also from the same governing party (…) Thus, this extraordinary evaluation of judges and prosecutors seems to be rather an electoral promise, lacking legal arguments, but also prospects for real improvement of the state of affairs in the justice system”, say the representatives of the two judges’ associations.
The signatories of the statement say that for a year and a half in Moldova, the judiciary “does not have a self-administrative body with full powers and cannot manage the affairs of the system”, they are managed by people placed in interim positions, which would make “the system easily controllable by politicians”.
“The experience of pre-vetting is a controversial one: out of 28 judicial candidates in the Superior Council of Magistracy (CSM) elections – only 5 passed the so-called “pre-vetting”. The decisions of the pre-vetting commission published on the commission’s official website (vetting. md) have raised several question marks and reasonable doubts about the independence and integrity of the pre-vetting Commission itself, as some judges who did not issue politically unpopular decisions or who critically exposed the undue influence of the current politicians in the judiciary did not pass this “pre”-evaluation for formal reasons, which have nothing to do with corruption in the system or unethical behaviour of the judges concerned, as announced at the outset the purpose of pre-vetting – to prevent corrupt and improper judges from reaching senior positions. It appears that this pre-vetting was indeed a filter, but the public perception, and the perception of the judiciary, is that the pre-vetting was in fact a political filter, preventing politically inconvenient judges from standing for election to senior positions in the judiciary. Therefore, in public opinion, this pre-vetting process has discredited the government’s stated good intentions regarding the so-called ‘reform’ of the judiciary,” the statement added.
In addition, the associations’ representatives state that they “note with regret that the pre-vetting exercise failed” and would have been perceived more as “a political filter” than “a ‘cleansing’ of the system of the corrupt, as declared and expected in society”.
“Taking into account the above, we consider that it is not appropriate for Moldova to move to the vetting exercise, because a law on the evaluation of judges by “Commissions” located above the Constitution, commissions set up by politicians – may lead to the politicization of justice, regardless of the good intentions declared at the beginning (…).
We call for responsibility on the part of the political power, the Government and the Parliament to promote and adopt laws that contribute to improving the state of affairs in the justice system, through cooperation between the three branches of government, in accordance with the Constitution, and to abandon ideas that contribute to worsening the state of affairs, to administrative bottlenecks created by legislative gaps, from which the citizens of Moldova, the citizens of justice who expect fair and timely court decisions, suffer first and foremost”, the associations conclude.
The Ministry of Justice presented the draft concept on the extraordinary evaluation mechanism at a working group meeting on 20 February, with a view to finalising the draft law on the external evaluation of judges and prosecutors.
According to Ministry representatives, the evaluation mechanism comprises three phases. The pre-vetting phase provides for the screening of candidates for senior positions in the Superior Council of Magistracy (CSM), the Superior Council of the Prosecutor’s Office (CSP) and for members of judicial and prosecutorial colleges. Pre-vetting is an evaluation of candidates who voluntarily apply for the post of judge in the CSM, and failure to pass this procedure does not entail consequences for the judge’s career, as it is a filtering process for possible promotion to the self-administrative body.
The second phase is the vetting or evaluation of judges and candidates who wish to become judges of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ). Vetting, involves ethical and financial vetting that will be applied to judges and candidates for judges of the CSJ, as well as to judges and prosecutors in senior positions. The results of vetting will generate stronger effects for their careers. Subjects who have not passed vetting could be dismissed only for unjustified cases of obvious differences between expenses and income.
Phase three will see the vetting of judges and prosecutors in key positions and institutions.
The pre-vetting commission is currently hearing non-judicial candidates for the CSM, proposed by the Parliament. Of the 28 judicial candidates, only five passed the pre-vetting commission’s evaluation – Livia Mitrofan and Maria Frunze from the Chisinau Court, Centre, Ioana Chironeț, judge at the Chisinau Court, Ciocana, Vasile Șchiopu, judge at the Ungheni Court and Sergiu Caraman, judge at the Criuleni Court.
The Government approved on Tuesday, 7 March, the draft law on the external evaluation of judges and candidates for the position of judge of the CSJ, drafted by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
The draft law on the external evaluation of judges and prosecutors will be submitted to the public consultation procedure, finalised and then sent to the competent authorities for approval.