July 29, 2019 / 12:55 PM / 21 days ago

Romania's top court overturns criminal code changes

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania’s Constitutional Court on Monday struck down changes to the criminal code made by the ruling Social Democrats that would have halted many anti-graft cases in one of the European Union’s most corrupt countries.

The ruling comes at a sensitive time, following street protests on Saturday by Romanians outraged by the slow response of authorities to the murders of two teenage girls.

Protesters argued that the apparent mishandling of the killings showed that changes to judicial legislation had weakened not only anti-graft cases but also the ability of the state to fight wider crimes.

It is the second time that the Constitutional Court has overturned criminal code changes made by the ruling coalition of Social Democrats and their junior partner, the ALDE party.

The amendments included shortening the statute of limitations covering some offences, a move that would automatically shut down a number of cases, lowering prison terms and decriminalizing negligence in the workplace.

The ruling coalition initially overhauled the codes last year, prompting warnings from the European Commission that the proposed changes were a reversal of a decade of democratic and market reforms.

Since taking power in late 2016, the government has made a series of legal and personnel changes that are seen as threats to judicial independence and have raised concerns in the EU, the U.S. State Department and among thousands of local magistrates.

The top court will release details of Monday’s ruling at a later date. The bills will return to parliament which needs to modify them in agreement with the Court’s decision.

The Venice Commission, the advisory body on constitutional matters for the Council of Europe, the continent’s chief human rights watchdog, has previously recommended scrapping the two bills entirely.

Reporting by Luiza Ilie, Editing by William Maclean

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