Romanian president opposes plans for judicial overhaul

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania’s justice minister proposed a significant overhaul of the judicial system on Wednesday which the president called an attack on the rule of law that would set the country back a decade.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis during a news conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, June 19, 2017. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Romania is seen as one of the EU’s most corrupt states and Brussels keeps its justice system under special monitoring.

Attempts by the ruling coalition of Social Democrats and junior partner ALDE to weaken a crackdown on high-level corruption triggered the country’s largest street protests in decades at the start of the year.

Justice Minister Tudorel Toader proposed a slew of changes on Wednesday ranging from the way chief prosecutors are appointed to setting up a special prosecuting unit for crimes committed by magistrates.

“The proposals ... constitute an attack against the rule of law, the independence and proper functioning of the judiciary as well as the anti-corruption fight,” centrist President Klaus Iohannis said in a statement.

“If this mix of measures is adopted by the government and approved by parliament, Romania’s efforts for more than 10 years will be wiped out and the justice system will go back to a time when it was subordinated to politics.”

Under Romanian law, the president appoints chief prosecutors who have been proposed by the justice minister and received non-binding approval from the Superior Magistrates’ Council (CSM), the top watchdog that safeguards judicial independence.

Toader also proposed that the justice minister, who is politically appointed, take control of the judicial inspection unit from the CSM. Analysts and magistrates have said this would lead to political interference in the justice system.

The Prosecutor General’s office said these proposals were an alarm signal, adding that prosecutors had not been consulted.

Toader declined to answer questions but told reporters the proposals were “within normal and necessary parameters for the rule of law.”

The proposals will be send to the CSM for an opinion before being submitted to the government and ultimately parliament for approval.

Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Richard Balmforth