How the Justice Reform Is Implemented In Moldova: Court Buildings To Put The Employees’ Lives in Danger

How the Justice Reform Is Implemented In Moldova: Court Buildings To Put The Employees’ Lives in Danger
26 November 2020 | 18:29

A court building in the Cahul district, southern Moldova, is close to collapse and puts the court employees’ lives in danger.

  • A magistrate from that court, Ion Cotea, describes the situation: “It’s a disaster. I’d even say it is a subtle way of sabotaging the judiciary. It is impossible to work here. How can we do justice if we don’t have basic working conditions? ” 
  • Nine magistrates working in the court have had to do justice in an improvised office for a year, sharing a single courtroom.
  • Although the Cahul Court building was renovated, the place had a failing condition. Last year, the judicial activity was transferred to the headquarters of a former printing house in the Cahul town. The rent of space costs the state budget about 25,000 euros, paying an economic agent. 

In 2018, the Law on the courts’ reorganization provided the building of new headquarters for the Cahul Court by 2021. The Justice building was designed to house the courts’ from  Cahul, Cantemir, and Taraclia districts, southern Moldova, and the Cahul Court of Appeal. However,  the old building has not been demolished, and construction work has not begun. 

From 2001 and till June 2019, the Cahul Court had its premises in Cahul town,  in a former Soviet administration building from 1954.

The building risks collapsing despite investments of 151,000 euros, about 3,12 million Moldovan lei.

At ZdG request, the Agency for the Administration of Courts confirmed that the court’s general renovation works occurred during 2006 – 2013, with a total cost of 151,000 euros. However, a 2015 report concluded that the building was in an unsatisfactory technical condition and it could collapse. The Cahul Court interim president Mihail Bușuleac reports that an incident in 2014 damaged the building severely.

“According to the 2015 expert report, activities could not be carried out in this headquarters because it endangered the life and integrity of the litigants and the court workers. Several cracks appeared following an incident in 2014 when a water pipe broke near the building,” states the court’s president.

Moreover, the building’s interior condition worsened due to further earthquakes. 

The money allocated for court premises was used to enforce ECtHR decisions. 

Four years ago, the Parliament agreed to merge Courts from districts in southern Moldova with the Cahul Court and the Court of Appeal. The Courts’ activity was to happen in a newly designed courthouse, built during 2018-2021.

Thus the Ministry of Justice decided in 2017 that the new Cahul Court headquarters will be built in the same place as the current courthouse building. The state budget allocated 82,000 euros in 2018 for construction projects. Also, the Cahul Court and the Cahul Court of Appeal would activate in the same building, which led to payments increases up to 5,000 euros. However, for various reasons, the actions included in the annual plans were not carried out within the established deadlines.

In 2019, the Cahul Court’s construction another 500,000 euros were allocated to the of, of which, after rectification, only 111,000 euros remained. However, according to the report, the allotted resources were not capitalized. The Parliament had not voted a decision regarding the construction of the common building for the Cahul Court and Court of Appeal.

The state gave out another 260,000 euros for the construction, again in 2020. However, last April, the European Court of Human Rights ruled out a decision in a case regarding Gemini Trading House and the Moldovan state, within which the European Court requested Moldova to pay the petitioners about 3,6 million euros. Thus, the Government made amendments to the state budget Law and decided to take out about 1,36 million euros from the account of the judiciary building construction program in order to enforce the ECtHR decision. After rectification, out of the 2 million euros initially approved, about 500,000 euros remained for the new headquarters’ building.

The construction of the court building is postponed.

The Agency for the Administration of Courts stated for ZdG that the Superior Council of Magistracy decided to set up an institutional working group to assess “the results of the implementation of the judiciary reform and to propose amendments to the new organization map, necessary for the proper functioning of the courts and in particular to respect the rights of litigants.” In this context, Petru Vîrlan, the deputy director of the Agency, claims that the new courthouses’ construction had to stop until the Superior Council of Magistracy pronounces a decision, meaning the construction of the courthouse deadline will change.

Cahul Court moved to the printing house.

Meanwhile, for more than a year, the Cahul Court has been working in the town’s former printing house. The court’s current president claims that three judiciary institutions discussed the transfer of the court’s activity to another location until the new building’s construction works will be completed. As the institutions could not identify a public building, the Cahul Court rents space from a local economic agent. Court’s president Bușuleac argues that they opted for this solution because “all public buildings are occupied either totally or partially,” and the current space was “the best offer.” 

The state budget pays about 25,000 euros annually for renting the space from the company Almex-Co SRL. The economic agent receiving the money is Alexei Colodeev, an influential businessman from Cahul district, former supporter and adviser of the Communist Party. He is currently the Cahul Expres newspaper owner, a publication that distributed material against candidate Igor Dodon’s opponents during the 2020 presidential election campaign.

“How can we do justice if we don’t have basic working conditions?” 

Both the court’s interim president and the magistrates activating there are dissatisfied with the work conditions and uncertainty regarding the new building’s construction.

Ion Cotea has been a magistrate at the Cahul Court for more than 25 years. The judge says the current headquarters is not proper for a judiciary institution. He also points out that the nine judges are forced to share a single courtroom.

Each judge has to examine 10-15 cases daily, which is next to impossible. We have to ensure both social distancing for the people and make room for everyone in the courtroom. Therefore, we have to postpone hearings for a later hour the same day, or we have to postpone them for a longer time,” says the indignant judge, pointing out that, in such conditions, the justice process is mostly delayed, and people start to be suspicious.

The working load per judge increases not only in arithmetic but also in geometric progression. The more cases arrive, the more they accumulate because they are deferred, and the longer the term for their solution is. Thus, people begin to make claims. This will lead to suing us for delaying examination of cases. However, we cannot do our duty to have proper work conditions and not have a room for the court hearing. It’s a disaster. I’d even say it is a subtle way of sabotaging the judiciary, and they want us to work here. How can we do justice if we don’t have basic working conditions?” complains the magistrate.

“For 25 years, I have been witnessing the destruction of justice.”

Magistrate Ion Cotea believes that the court-building problem had persisted for five years when the court employees started revolt as the old headquarters was documented damaged. The judge says that although everyone is dissatisfied, they are afraid to speak for fear of being punished.

Many of my colleagues are reluctant. I think we must tell the truth because otherwise, we will have this situation linger. They are afraid to speak, not to be persecuted for it. When I came into the system, the judges could speak freely about all the issues. At the last Assembly of Judges, in March 2019, everyone kept silent. Why? Because we know the fate of those who spoke their mind. They were fired or excluded from the system only because they spoke the truth. We cannot say that the judiciary system is independent. We have a captured judiciary, and we have all signs it moves towards destruction. I tell you honestly, for 25 years, I have been witnessing the destruction of justice,” the magistrate speaks with indignation.

The justice reform launched in April 2016. Starting with January 1, 2017, the 44 previously existing first-level courts merged into 15 new courts. According to the Law on the courts’ reorganization, the unification is to be carried out gradually until December 31, 2027. The Parliament has to approve a plan and create the appropriate conditions. The Ungheni Court from Ungheni district, western Moldova, is the first and only headquarters built within this process. The building, called Ungheni Palace of Justice, has been active since 2018, and the construction costs summed up to 3 million euros.

AUTHOR MAIL

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