The judges have begun to speak out: “Those who enter the battle with justice must be prepared to face this battle”
The General Assembly of Judges, which took place on Friday after a four-year break, has been adjourned until 28 April, during which time the magistrates have set out to draft a joint statement on the situation in the system. The interruption postponed the election of members of the Superior Council of Magistrates (SCM), after five judges, all from the first instance, passed the Pre-Vetting Commission’s assessment in a first stage.
Judges attending the assembly have mixed views on the current state of the judiciary, the reform initiated by the current government and the evaluation process for judges and judicial candidates. Some accuse the government of trying to subjugate the judiciary, while others are hopeful that the reform will have a good outcome.
Victor Micu: “We have vacated the seat. Now, here you go!”
Victor Micu, who on the day of the General Assembly of Judges was still a member of the Superior Council of Magistrates and a judge at the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ), but was to leave the judiciary in just three days, expressed his dissatisfaction with the way the current government has initiated justice reform.
“The justice reform must be carried out from within and by specialists who know the subject. There must be both representatives of civil society and those from the judiciary. If you don’t ask the problems we know from the inside, you can’t do reform. It’s not good when people talk about the judiciary as being corrupt or… There are cases among cases. I don’t think it’s sabotage (the recent resignations, editor’s note). Each one, I tell you honestly, decided personally. I don’t think they have agreed. Personally, I haven’t spoken to anyone to see if they are leaving or not. The vast majority of colleagues I spoke to said they were fed up with the general blame. The emphasis has always been on young judges. We have vacated the seat. Now, there you go. Other judges will come in, maybe better than us, smarter,” Micu said.
Liliana Catană: “Thank you to the countries that hand us the money bag and teach us democracy”
Liliana Catană, a SCJ judge who recently resigned from the system, accuses the government of wanting to subjugate justice.
“Those who enter the fight with justice must be prepared to face this fight. Legally prepared. We can’t trample over heads just to achieve some goals. I had to leave today because I do not agree, as do my colleagues. Mr Grosu said that the judges left by escape. I did not escape, God forbid,” she said.
Liliana Catană also said that “I still have 10 years I could have given to this system. In countries, which I thank for handing us the money bag and teaching us democracy, experienced judges are highly valued. If you go to the U.S. Supreme Court, because that’s where the liquor really comes from, and not from the east, you’ll see…”.
Referring to the blocking of the work of the SCM by postponing the election of SCM members, Catană accuses, this time too, politics.
“We can’t know when there will be a functional SCM, but we can’t blame only the system. We were supposed to spend a lot of meetings, but again, politics blocked us. It has blocked us by forbidding the members of the SCM to leave the offices in order to have quorums, by all sorts of provisions,” Catană said.
Victoria Sanduța: “These outdated SCM members have been embraced by the current political class, to use them for so-called reforms”
The magistrate of the Chisinau Court, Victoria Sanduța, also accuses politicians of meddling in the judicial system, but says judges are to blame for this.
“We acknowledge that we, the judges, are to blame for the current state of the justice system. Let’s take the responsibility to bring the judiciary home, that is to say, alongside the two powers in the state, on the same level, on equal footing, and clean up from within. I am sorry that this has not been achieved so far. These outdated members of the SCM, who were during the captured state, were embraced by the current political class, to use them in the so-called reforms that have now been abolished by the opinion of the Venice Commission”, said Sanduța.
In the judge’s view, the recent departures of judges from the system are “a logical consequence of the hate speech promoted by politicians since 2019”.
“It is not true what the politicians talk about, that justice is totally captured. Since 2017, since I have been working in the system, I have issued fair and absolutely independent decisions, without pressure from inside or outside, and I want to continue to do so without commissions created and established by politics, by Parliament, by development partners that make me a filter that is actually political and not a filter of competences. If we go to elect five out of five, because four members will be in the SCM and one alternate, this is a political appointment and selection by the Pre-Vetting Commission,” Sanduța added.
Livia Mitrofan: “My interest is that the judge is seen as a dignified person who fully respects the law”
Judge Livia Mitrofan, who aspires to a CSM seat after passing the Pre-Vetting Commission’s evaluation, pointed out that she visited several courts and found that the judicial system is in absolute collapse.
“We saw that, at the moment, the judicial system is in absolute collapse. It is about the workload, lack of independence, lack of social guarantees and guarantees in general. Moreover, in some courts we found that even technical conditions are not there. It is in my interest to have a strong and united system, a viable system, with mechanisms to be able to continue to operate. It is in my interest that the mandate of our judges is extended, that they can operate and thus be taken away from the other judges. It is in my interest that, in the future, society should see us as one of the three powers of the state. The judge, as an exponent of the judiciary, should be seen as a dignified person who fully respects the law,” said Livia Mitrofan.
Vladislav Holban: “Pre-Vetting has generated more controversy, which is not good for public perception of the reform”
Magistrate Vladislav Holban of the Chisinau Central Court, who did not promote the evaluation of the Pre-Vetting Commission and challenged the Commission’s decision at the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ), says that the reform of the judicial system is a “pressing need”, but the way it was started generates confusion.
“I believe that there was a pressing need to intervene in reforming the judiciary, but as a result of the Pre-Vetting Commission’s evaluation of the candidates, there were some unclearties regarding the application of the law. The Venice Commission drew attention to these facts and I hope that when the evaluation of colleagues in Vetting takes place, they will be taken into account and adjusted to the legal provisions, to international standards, in order to ensure a guarantee, including for the people who will be subject to evaluation, which will subsequently give citizens confidence in the judicial system, confidence which also generated this reform. Pre-Vetting has generated several controversies, which does not do the public perception of the reform any good. However, we hope that things will go on the right track and the reform will generate positive effects,” said the judge.
Vitalie Stratan: “I want each of the reforms to be coordinated between the powers”
Vitalie Stratan, another judge at the Chisinau Central Court, who did not pass the Pre-Vetting Commission’s evaluation and challenged the Commission’s decision at the SCJ, is hopeful that the reform will have a good outcome.
“The judicial system needs to be strengthened and only with the input of the judges who are in the system should we have a workable framework in all courts, including with the changes that are now being made in the legislation. In the judicial system reforms have been going on for many years. I just want the intention to be good and each of the reforms to be coordinated between the powers. We as judges have to do our job properly by adopting acts and provisions. It is good that the General Assembly has been convened after a long period of time and it is good that we consolidate as judges, to discuss,” said the magistrate.
President: “Justice has been hijacked by the common interests of some judges”
President Maia Sandu convened the Supreme Security Council on Monday, March 20, after the election of members of the SCM failed. The meeting decided to speed up the creation of the SCM. “The SCM is to be operational for 30 days, no later. Parliament will appoint non-judge members who have passed the evaluation of the Pre-Vetting Commission and from these members the SCM will be created and will function regardless of what the judges decide,” the head of state said. According to her, another recommendation of the CSS is that young specialists should be brought into the justice system.
“The assembly was conducted with violations. Independence of judges does not mean independence of corruption. Those who can neither justify their wealth, nor the abuses committed, nor the protection of the corrupt, have been giving moral lessons to the citizens. We see that justice has been hijacked by the common interests of judges who have let criminals go free, who have allowed Laundromat, billion theft to go unpunished or invalidated democratic elections,” said Maia Sandu.