Target to bring justice under one roof
Top judge Lidia Barbulescu, president of the Superior Council of Magistrates, argues her department should take over the appointment of leading positions in the justice system
Newly appointed president of the Superior Council of Magistrates (CSM), Lidia Barbulescu, believes that to ensure the independence of justice from politics, the Government should allow her department to nominate senior judicial positions.
At present the CSM recruits, promotes and can dismiss both Romanian judges and prosecutors, after an internal investigation.
But she argues CSM powers should be extended to choosing the general prosecutor, the chief prosecutors in the Anti-Corruption Department (DNA) and the Department for Organised Crime and Terrorism and their deputies as well as the president and vice-president of the High Court. This would give the CSM a de facto control of almost the entire judicial system, except for the appointment of the Minister of Justice and the members of the Constitutional Court.
Currently, the Minister of Justice appoints these positions after presidential approval, but Barbulescu is pushing for the Italian model, where the institution similar to CSM makes proposals for the most important positions in the magistracy.
This comes at a time when Romanian justice faces massive criticism from the European Commission and within its own ranks. According to a poll by Transparency International of judges and prosecutors, trust in the Romanian judiciary has fallen since 2006, while the relationship with the CSM and judges is perceived by the magistrates as difficult.
“I would not characterise as alarming the conclusions of that report, because the transparency and the credibility of judiciary system have increased,” argues the president of CSM.
For three months until March this year Romania failed to secure a Minister of Justice, because the Prime Minister and the President could not agree on a suitable candidate. Business lawyer Catalin Predoiu was eventually appointed to solve problems such as drafting a new Code for Criminal Procedures and saving the Romanian justice system from punishment by the European Commission.
Meanwhile 52 year-old Barbulescu, who was appointed in January, considers Predoiu is correct for the new role, providing his institution can offer stable and consistent laws. “Now Romanian legislation is incoherent and over-abundant, because nobody since 1990 has been able to apply a medium and long term strategy to the justice system in Romania,” the CSM president adds.
Land of confusion
For foreign investors, she argues that the Romanian legislation is more confusing than for Romanians. Simplification is necessary. “I have always supported the idea of having one law of justice that can give all the indications on how a trial in Romania works and what are the procedures from the moment a citizen submits a complaint until he or she receives the final decision from a judge,” she adds.
Barbulescu was the only candidate for her position and was elected by all the members of the CSM, except for Romania’s General Prosecutor, Laura Kovesi.
This implies a misunderstanding between the two women in the top league of Romanian justice. The new president also has an arguably shaky relationship with Daniel Morar, chief prosecutor of the Anti-Corruption Department (DNA). Both Morar and Kovesi, who were appointed by former Minister of Justice, Monica Macovei, have been praised by the European Commission for their work in fighting graft. But Barbulescu refuses to answer how she characterises her relationship with the head of the DNA.
In 2005 Barbulescu, as vice-president of the High Court for Cassation and Justice (ICCJ), faced calls from then Minister Macovei to leave her position. Macovei accused Barbulescu of trying to modify rules to allow her daughter to pass an exam to enter the magistracy. The CSM conducted an investigation which decided that Barbulescu had not done anything wrong.
But this was also not without controversy, because Barbulescu, as vice-president of ICCJ, was then part of the CSM.
Barbulescu claims she wants to make her activity as transparent as possible by allowing civil society and magistrates to be part of the decision-making process of her institution. “We want to be very open in this matter,” she adds.
As a former judge, she is aware that the independence of justice depends on fair decisions by judges in Romanian courtrooms. But such a decision can only be taken if Romanian judges and prosecutors deserve to be in their positions. This means a thorough vetting process and tough exams.
Romanian justice had to change radically after the 1989 Revolution and the number of prosecutors and judges had to increase significantly. “At the beginning of the 1990s most magistrates entered the system without any kind of exams or even proper legal studies,” she says, “which made things worse and we still feel the effects, even now.”
Interview by Ana-Maria Nitoi