The Constitutional Court (CCR) decided that lawyers whose spouses or other close relatives act as judges are allowed to plead in the courts of justice where those relatives work, thus legalising the offence of conflict of interests, website HotNews.ro writes.
The CCR made the decision on November 15, accepting an unconstitutionality exception raised by a defendant, Marin Maciuca, who wants to hire a criminal law specialist to defend him in a case currently tried by the High Court. The lawyer’s wife works at the High Court’s civil department.
Maciuca, a reserve general major, worked for the Defence Ministry and was indicted in February 2007, on charges of having caused EUR 3 M in losses to the state budget by approving expenses significantly higher than the budget limits. The lawyer he wants to hire, Vasile Pantea, is married to High Court judge Paula Pantea.
The interdiction on lawyers to plead at courts of justice where their relatives worked had been first enforced in 1995, but was then lifted and reintroduced at the end of last year, by government decision, HotNews said.
Maciuca insisted that the interdiction violated his right to a proper defence and the right to choose his attorney. Moreover, the defendant said the text violates lawyers’ right to work and to choose their work place and also breaks the equality of chances between lawyers.
The interesting fact is that the Constitutional Court accepted the unconstitutionality exception even if professional lawyers’ associations opposed it. The associations said the interdiction should be left in place “in order to avoid the violation of fundamental rules of conflict of interests and in order to safeguard a fundamental value of the rule of law – confidence in the legal system.” “Allowing a person to be represented by a lawyer who is related to a colleague of the judge creates an unbalance between the sides of a lawsuit,” the lawyers’ associations said.
An anticorruption coordinator with NGO Expert Forum, Laura Stefan, also criticised the CCR ruling, saying that it disregards the fact that “in order for citizens to trust the legal system, it’s important that the system be free of any suspicions that it is lacking impartiality.”
Asked to comment on the decision, Justice Minister Catalin Predoiu said he had a different opinion to that of the CCR. “Elimination of the interdiction will disadvantage lawyers who do not have spouses or relatives in court. (…) In what regards justice credibility, the elimination of this interdiction will not help, if this is used for abuses or conflicts of interests,” he said.