Protests in Romania Over Lawyer’s Conviction Reflect Deeper Concerns About a Corrupt Legal System
Protests that erupted in Romania late last month in response to the controversial conviction of a lawyer are reflective of enduring international alarm about the integrity of the Romanian justice system. Outraged by a five-year sentence that was meted out to Attorney Robert Rosu, several dozen lawyers gathered outside the High Court in Bucharest to protest the ruling and to warn of its implications for both “lawyers, as well as the public,” according to a statement released by the Union of Romanian Bar Associations (UNBR), which came out in support of Rosu.
UNBR President Traian Briciu described the verdict in a television interview as one that deliberately “creates fear” among lawyers, deterring them from providing the protections and services that all defendants are due. Rosu was convicted alongside three other businesspersons for “transmitting notifications” and for his “direct involvement” in arranging contracts in the context of a land fraud case involving his client.
In January 2018, while the case was still being adjudicated, the European Criminal Bar Association wrote a letter to Romania’s justice minister in which it argued that the “legitimate acts” performed by Rosu as his client’s representative had erroneously been “confused with criminal activities.”
The European Union has had enduring concerns about Romania’s compliance with its anticorruption standards. In 2007, the European Commission established for Romania and other formerly Communist countries a cooperation and verification mechanism to meet several anti-corruption and judicial reform benchmarks. That mechanism, which was designed to be temporary and transitional, has still not been removed nearly a decade and a half later, due to Romanian failure to meet those benchmarks satisfactorily.
One of the chief complaints about corruption in the Romanian justice system is that prosecutors, judges, and other justice system officials are overly dependent on the political echelon for their appointment and continued tenure and, as a consequence, are subject to political pressure. The dismissal of the director of the Romanian National Anticorruption Directorate, Laura Codruta Kovesi, showcased that problem. According to a ruling that was issued by the European Court of Human Rights, she was removed from office for being critical of the government’s anti-corruption legislation. The court also found that Romania had violated Ms. Kovesi’s right to a fair trial.
Separately, an EC report to European Parliament in October 2019 cited the undue influence wielded by Romanian intelligence services on the judiciary as one of the principal problems compromising its independence. According to that EC report, “the goal should be a framework where the intelligence services are under proper democratic oversight, where crimes can be effectively investigated and sanctioned in full respect of fundamental rights, and where the public can have confidence that judicial independence is secure.”
It seems that the enduring concerns about the independence and integrity of the Romanian justice system partially fueled the protest by Rosu’s colleagues, in Romania and further afield, against his controversial conviction.