The Justice Reform: what was promised and what was delivered
This is a translated and slightly adapted version of an article originally published in Romanian on August 29.
Previously inconceivable, the alliance between Igor Dodon’s pro-Russian Socialists and the pro-European bloc ACUM was forged under the banner of de-oligarchization. The two parties promised to dismantle Vlad Plahotniuc’s system and to restore the rule of law. This Wednesday, the leaders of the new government finally announced their plan for reforming Moldovan justice., It is way less than ACUM had wanted and way more than the Socialists had promised. We’ll look at the announced plan point by point.
The Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ)
The Supreme Court of Justice is one of the few positive highlights. Justice Minister Olesea Stamate announced that CSJ’s mission will be changed to focus more on unifying judiciary practice and less on hearing individual cases. The number of judges will be halved and a special commission, which will include former judges and prosecutors from the EU, will evaluate CSJ members and decide who stays and who goes. This is precisely what ACUM had promised in paragraph 5 of their electoral program’s chapter on justice.
The High Council of the Judiciary (CSM)
Regarding CSM, ACUM had promised: ”to remove the Prosecutor General, the CSJ chair and the minister of justice from the Council; to choose civil society representatives on the Council transparently; to ensure that all levels of the judiciary are represented in the CSM; to choose judges who sit on the CSM by the General Assembly of Judges so that they constitute a majority in the Council”.
The reform announced on Wednesday stipulated the addition of three new members to the CSM: two chosen by the government and one by the President. The members selected by the General Assembly of Judges will represent all the levels of the judiciary: three from primary courts, two from the courts of appeal and one from CSJ. This indeed fulfills one of the bloc’s promises, but the rest of their plans for CSM seem to have gone down the drain.
The High Council of Prosecutors (CSP)
It is true that ACUM’s electoral program had no specific plan for the CSP. However, at the end of May, ACUM MPs hosted public debates at the Parliament, where they proposed enlarging the CSP from 12 to 19 members to include more civil society representatives.
Moreover, after CSP announced a contest to fill the vacancy of Prosecutor General, Prime Minister Maia Sandu accused CSP members of being Vlad Plahotniuc’s servants, unable to reform themselves, and said that ”the system must be purged from the outside”.
In the end however, these harsh words were followed only by a meek proposal. CSP would be punished with two new members: one named by the Ministry of Justice and another by the Civil Society Forum.
The Prosecutor General
During the May debates, ACUM proposed two other changes: to enlarge the commission for the selection of the PG with foreign and civil society experts, and to make foreign citizens eligible for the PG position. The latter proposal would have allowed them to appoint someone like Romania’s former star prosecutor Laura Codruța Kövesi.
The Socialists crossed out the foreign prosecutor idea from the start. Even though ACUM/PDA leader Andrei Năstase, at the end of Wednesday’s press conference, promised ACUM would fight for an European prosecutor, this idea was absent from the presented plan of reform.
Instead of the extended commission proposed in May, the government now wants a smaller commission at the Ministry of Justice to create a shortlist of candidates from which CSP can choose the PG. To put it bluntly, instead of reforming the CSP, the government proposed to tie the Council’s hands by obliging it to choose from only two candidates picked by the Ministry of Justice. Maia Sandu insists that the Ministry will create a de-politicized commission, while President Dodon sees this as a monopoly on the PG and wants the Parliament and the President’s Office to be involved.
At the moment, PG candidates must have worked at least 5 years as a prosecutor. The reform will enlarge the pool of eligible candidates by including those with at least 10 years of experience in the law sector. This requirement is not enough for Igor Dodon, who claims to fear the damage an inexperienced PG could do, and he wants this reform to be accompanied by the reduction of the Prosecutor General’s powers and responsibilities.
Point 3 from ACUM’s electoral program on justice raises big expectations: “Create a National Anticorruption Department and a specialized Anticorruption Court with the help of our foreign partners. These institutions will deal exclusively with cases of high corruption. Some of the judges and prosecutors will be brought from abroad”.
This promise didn’t survive the deal negotiated with the Socialists. Neither did the ideas of disbanding the National Anticorruption Center, put forward by Alexandru Slusari (ACUM/PDA), or dismantling the Prosecutor’s Office for Fighting Organized Crime and Special Causes, voiced by Socialist Grigore Novac.
The initial idea of the anticorruption reform was partially recycled though. The government leaders want the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office to focus on political or grand corruption cases, while the National Anticorruption Center would focus on smaller cases. This solution has long been advocated for by the Legal Resources Center NGO.
Purging the system
Number one of ACUM’s electoral promises on justice was to verify the professionalism, integrity and assets of all judges and prosecutors, starting from the top, with the help of an international commission.
This promise is partially fulfilled by the presented reform. Six of the 18 members of the commission that will evaluate CSJ judges will be foreign experts. The commission will also evaluate the chairpersons of the courts of appeal and of some district courts, their deputies, the anticorruption prosecutors, the heads of the divisions of the Prosecutor General’s Office, the heads of specialized, territorial and district prosecutor’s offices, and the deputies of chief prosecutors from Chișinău, Bălți, Cahul and Comrat.
CVM for Moldova
After Romania and Bulgaria’s somewhat premature accession to the EU in 2007, a Cooperation and Verification Mechanism was established to ensure that both countries would continue their anticorruption and justice reform efforts. The CVM sets benchmarks, monitors and reports on progress in Romania and Bulgaria, and provides financial and technical assistance to both governments in the field of justice reform and fight against corruption and organized crime. 
The ACUM bloc envisioned a similar mechanism for Moldova, but, unsurprisingly, the Socialists didn’t warm up to the idea and the proposed reform doesn’t include anything like the CVM.
Magnitsky and others
Other electoral promises regarding the justice reform don’t concern judges or prosecutors, but are still important. The Magnitsky Law, a promise reinforced by the Parliament’s Declaration on the captive state of government institutions, still hasn’t been adopted. The National Integrity Authority remains dysfunctional and there’s no clear plan to revamp it.
Socialist stars in ACUM’s wheel
With some exceptions, such as the CSJ reform, many of ACUM’s promises didn’t make their way into the reform plan announced on Wednesday, e.g. the Anticorruption Court, while others were included only partially, e.g. the external evaluation of judges and prosecutors. The main obstacle seems to be their coalition partner, PSRM, informally led by President Dodon.
Perhaps because of their loyalty to Moscow, perhaps because of their DIY nationalism or simply because they don’t want to lose their electorate, the Socialists cannot accept ideas such as a CVM for Moldova or an European chief prosecutor. Meanwhile, their insistence that the Parliament and President be involved in the appointment of the new Prosecutor General clearly shows this is also about control and influence. The mistrust between ACUM and PSRM has deepened after the Socialists’ recent chicanery at the Constitutional Court. 
The pressure is higher on ACUM because the Socialists were careful not to promise too much regarding justice in their electoral offer. The PSRM program proposes to “uproot nepotism and favoritism from the judiciary”, to protect judges from political and business influences, to establish harsher punishments for bribery and abuse of office, and so on. These are traditional promises that make ACUM’s program seem radical and detailed by comparison.
Judging strictly by its electoral program, PSRM seems to be willing to work with the current judiciary system. For the Socialists, the reform plan announced on Wednesday is way more that they had wanted. For the ACUM bloc, it is way less than what they had promised. It remains to see which side public consultations will tip the balance. Some voices from civil society, such as activist Ștefan Gligor, are already calling for more drastic changes, such canceling the mandate of all CSM and CSP members. 
Opinie cu privire la reforma justiției - Ștefan Gligor, facebook.com ↩︎