Romanian Justice Minister Tudorel Toader has submitted a draft bill to Parliament containing controversial reforms that critics say will undermine the independence of the judiciary by placing it under ministerial control. Under the changes the president would no longer play a role in naming the country’s prosecutors and judges, while the Justice minister would continue to have an input. The final decision would then be made by the Superior Magistracy Council, which is charged with guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary. Under the current arrangement the president, who is regarded as being above politics, names Romania’s general prosecutor and the chief prosecutors of the anti-corruption and anti-organised crime bodies.
The plans, which were originally announced in August, met with opposition from civil society groups and the judiciary, who argue that the diminished role of the president leaves too much power in the hands of the justice minister and threatens to politicise judicial appointments. They were also denounced by the president, Klaus Iohannis, who called them “an attack on the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption.” The European Commission has expressed concern over the proposed changes and asked Bucharest to provide more details on the reforms.
Another draft bill due to be presented to parliament in the coming months would see the Judicial Inspection body, which investigates misconduct among judges and is currently overseen by the Supreme Council of Magistracy, become independent. However, the lack of details as to who will now appoint that body has raised concerns that it too could come under political control. More than 3,500 judges and prosecutors have signed a letter asking the government to scrap the proposed reforms, saying they “flagrantly violate” the commitments made by Romania to keep up its fight against corruption after joining the EU.
The fresh controversy comes less than a year after Toader’s predecessor as justice minister, Florin Iordache, was forced to step down in the face of mass protests against his proposed decree that would have pardoned officials jailed for corruption and decriminalised offenses that cause less than 44,000 euros in damage. This was was seen as giving a free pass to politicians to accept bribes of less than that amount and resulted in the largest street demonstrations Romania has seen since the fall of communism in 1989. Iordache remains an MP and was appointed as president of the parliamentary committee in charge of finalising the new judicial reforms.