The draft emergency ordinances on the granting of pardons and the amending of the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code have sparked pro and con opinions among those who took part in the public debate organised at the Justice Ministry on Monday.
JusMin Florin Iordache: Rapists, murderers and repeat offenders won’t benefit from pardons
Justice Minister Florin Iordache announced on Monday, at the start of the Justice Ministry debate on the ordinances concerning the judiciary, a debate for which around 200 persons signed up, that rapists, murderers, repeat offenders and those convicted for corruption will not benefit from pardons. The representatives of several NGOs asked for his resignation during the debate, while other citizens announced that they support the legislative acts given the inhumane conditions of detention in Romanian penitentiaries.
“All those who want to take part in this consultation will do so. We will discuss the two draft legislative acts that are now being publicly debated. We are discussing a pardon bill. I want to point out that rapists, murderers, those who are accused of corruption and repeat offenders will not benefit from it, and the main condition we raised was that of recovery of the financial damage caused. The second legislative act comes to set in line the [Constitutional] Court’s decision on the Criminal Code. Last week, the Constitutional Court decided that 6 other Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code articles are unconstitutional. In these conditions, after the substantiation report appears, we would have to come up with amendments again,” Justice Minister Florin Iordache stated on Monday at the start of the debate on the draft emergency ordinances on the granting of pardons and the amending of the Criminal Codes.
During the debate, the representatives of several NGOs asked Justice Minister Florin Iordache to resign, while other citizens announced they support the legislative acts given the inhumane conditions of detention in Romanian penitentiaries.
“A law must be passed. Even through an emergency ordinance. Why? If there are problems afterward, they can be modified in time. A way to modify it can be found in Parliament. Mr. Minister, they kept going back and forth through Parliament, a pardon and an amnesty should be passed. It didn’t work. The Constitution says that the right to life, to health is guaranteed, the right to a normal life. How do we guarantee them in these jails? How do we assure all people who get back to society and society considers them pariahs? The members of the establishment, who went to jail unjustly, are victims too. The convicts are victims too. Not all of them. We are talking about those who are innocent,” citizen Adrian Macarie said during the debate.
Macarie added he backs these draft legislative acts. “Mr. Minister, may God give you the strength to carry them through. (…) In Romania, is man the supreme value or not?” he said, pointing out that “any individual pardon is adopted by the judge,” and a person freed in normal conditions can rebuild his/her life.
At the same time, several associations asked for the draft emergency ordinances on the granting of pardons and the amending of the Criminal Codes to be revoked.
“The necessity to adopt these legislative acts was not really justified. The procedure is that they must be placed in decisional transparency for a minimum of 30 days. Considering we are talking about legislation that affects the penal system, in my view the 30 days are a minimum standard. Several months would be necessary, and the said legislative acts should only then be adopted within the Government and sent to Parliament, which is legitimately elected. These decisional transparency procedures lead to better laws. That is why we must keep amending the Criminal Code following CCR [Constitutional Court] decisions, because in 2014 and the period prior to that some reasonable impact surveys were not carried out. It’s the same in what concerns the overcrowding,” APADOR-CH’s Nicoleta Andreescu stated on Monday during the debates.
Initiativa Romania’s Mihai Politeanu asked Justice Minister Florin Iordache to immediately revoke the two emergency ordinances and to resign.
“You are compromised as Justice Minister. The texts of the ordinances and of the substantiation reports were written in a conspiratorial manner, and at least the text of the substantiation report on pardons is full of falsehoods. (…) This meeting is a farce,” he said.
“The goal of these ordinances is for you to help dozens or hundreds of friends or political actors get rid of criminal accountability and the serving of sentences. This is the goal. It’s something that the embassies of our main partner states, NGOs and the judiciary system recognise. (…) You are no longer a credible partner of dialogue, in our view you are compromised as Justice Minister. The text of the substantiation report concerning the granting of pardons is full of falsehoods. There are two solutions we recommend: revoke these emergency ordinances and resign,” Politeanu said.
“Starting next week, we will stage protests demanding the resignation of the Justice Minister. We have asked for the discussion of a bill in Parliament; for there to be discussions, committees, for a correct decision to be taken. Mr. Becali was present here too. I told him – ‘Sir, you keep whining. You have the money. Build prisons and put them at the state’s disposal.’ The problem is whether there is [housing] capacity or not. Indeed, there isn’t, the conditions are inhumane, these people who serve sentences should serve them decently, but releasing 3-5,000 persons who will return in 2-3 years’ time is not the solution. Take Italy’s case and see what happened,” Viorel Ene, President of the Victims of the Miners’ Riots Association, stated when leaving the debates, pointing out that the budget does not include funds for penitentiaries.
In her turn, Expert Forum’s Cezara Grama said the texts of the two emergency ordinances are “insufficiently prepared,” pointing out that the public debate “was fairly confused.” “You have a fairly strong social reaction. We too consider (…) that the emergency procedure must be revoked (…), they have to enter a normal legislative procedure, which would offer the possibility for a full, technical debate on very sensitive issues,” she added.
On the other hand, Corneliu Balan, President of the Association of Victims of Rule of Law Abuses in Romania, said he agrees with the two drafts. “In principle, we agree with the two drafts, but (…) they should be discussed in Parliament for the Opposition to be able to properly state its opinion, and then this improper street movement will disappear,” he said.
Ene Viorel, the representative of the Association of Victims of the Miners’ Riots, raised the issue of victims. “Those of us who are victims, for whom justice hasn’t been served for 27 years and who are now seeing, after very many years, that Iliescu and others are indicted. So, what do you propose as PSD’s representative? That Mr. Iliescu should benefit from all these things?” he said.
Another participant congratulated the Justice Minister for his “audacity” to organise this debate.
“I believe you are now triggering a transformation of the judiciary, I see it as your first measure. If you want a rejuvenation, a rebranding or a really exponential transformation, I am asking you to do it impeccably. (…) Leaving aside the technical, case-by-case problems with certain articles, problems that can be resolved, (…) Romania needs such initiatives,” he told Iordache.
Another participant said that a lot of people are “politicising” the debate. “Many of us are thinking about the people (…) who are experiencing what they are experiencing in penitentiaries. As a psychologist, I had the inconvenience of seeing and making contact with such people, very many of them deserve the chance of a pardon. (…) Offer clemency to those who really deserve it and who did not show violence. (…) I propose you adopt this ordinance but you should implement it in a non-politicised manner,” she added.
Becali: “A tricky bill”
FC Steaua financier Gigi Becali, who was criminally convicted and released on parole, stated on Monday at the Justice Ministry’s debate that the emergency ordinance on the granting of pardons is “a tricky bill” because one who stole a sausage is in jail while one who stole RON 200 million is pardoned. Becali added that penitentiary directors are slave owners and demanded that National Penitentiary Administration (ANP) Director Marius Vulpe, present at the debate, “be fired.”
“It’s a tricky bill. Take the Visinescu case: he’ll get out three years from now. That’s why people are out in the street. I propose three to four years for abuse of office. I was there [in a penitentiary] and I know. (…) One who stole a sausage is in jail, one who stole 200 million is pardoned. Penitentiary directors are slave owners,” Becali said at the public debate organised at the Justice Ministry, News.ro informs.
Becali pointed out that the National Penitentiary Administration is the biggest problem for prisons. “I have a colleague who never came home in four years,” Becali said.
He claimed that since “a pardon law” is in the works, its stipulations should allow 6-7,000 people to get out of prison. “For instance, blackmail should be included in the bill,” Becali pointed out.
Gigi Becali was in prison from 20 May 2013 to 3 April 2015, and was released on parole after serving a third of the three years and six months in prison sentence he received in the case concerning the plot of land swap with the Ministry of Defence, in the ‘Cash Bag’ case and in the case concerning the unlawful deprivation of freedom of persons who stole his car.
During the debates at the Justice Ministry, images from several prisons were shown.
The representative of a Timisoara-based organisation said that he does not understand why these emergency ordinances are still being debated and that he brought a list of 2,000 signatures from people who oppose the draft ordinances. “I have here 2,000 signatures who oppose these drafts. We want the drafts revoked and the organic law applied,” he said.
What the draft ordinances stipulate
The draft emergency ordinance on the granting of pardons, promoted by the Justice Ministry, stipulates the full pardoning of sentences up to five years in prison and lowers by half the sentences of pregnant convicts, of convicts who have children under the age of five, of convicts who are over 60 years old and of convicts who are terminally ill.
The stipulations are not applied to repeat offenders, convicts who avoided serving their sentence and those who commit crimes after 18 January 2017. The draft stipulates that the emergency ordinance comes into force on 18 February 2017.
The draft emergency ordinance amending the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code considers financial damage in excess of RON 200,000 in the case of abuse of office, lowers from 7 to 3 years of detention the maximum level of the punishment and eliminates the ban on the holding of public office.
In what concerns conflict of interest, those listed as the beneficiaries of the proceeds of the crime committed by the civil servant will no longer include those with whom the civil servant had job relations in the previous five years. Denunciations will be valid only if they are filed within 6 months since the denounced crime was committed.
ANP Director Marius Vulpe: Around 8,500 convicts should leave the penitentiaries
National Penitentiary Administration (ANP) Director Marius Vulpe stated on Monday that around 8,500 convicts should leave the penitentiaries or new detention facilities should be built, in order to lower the degree of overcrowding in prisons. He made the statement after the public debate on the ordinances concerning the judiciary.
“Around 8,500 convicts should leave the penitentiaries or we should build detention facilities for them,” ANP Director Marius Vulpe stated when leaving the debate held at the Justice Ministry.
The ANP Director also said that the habitual offender rate stands at around 40-45 percent.
“There is no guarantee that a person who committed a crime won’t do it again. Today we can only talk about the statistics. A statistic shows that 40-45 percent of the convicts are repeat offenders,” the ANP Director added.
Marius Vulpe said that the decision to promote the two legislative acts belongs to the Justice Ministry, ANP being set to implement what the members of the Government decide.
“The National Penitentiary Administration has simply offered the statistics on overcrowding in penitentiaries, ECHR convictions, convicts’ complaints, sums earmarked and the possibility to resolve this problem in the future. Depending on the conclusions drawn and the manner of promoting these legislative acts, the ANP will implement them,” Marius Vulpe stated.
Florin Iordache after the public debate: Gov’t assuming responsibility for the two drafts also means debate
Justice Minister Florin Iordache stated on Monday, after the public consultation on the two emergency ordinances on the granting of pardons and the amending of the Criminal Codes, that he is yet to know what formula for the adoption of the two legislative acts he will choose, namely a bill or the Government assuming responsibility for their adoption, claiming that the latter is also a form of debate.
“I asked those who opposed the ordinance and you saw that very many were saying there should be a debate in Parliament. I want to tell you that a debate also takes place when the Government assumes [responsibility], because those five days in which amendments are filed and the Government can assume them or not also mean a debate,” Iordache said.
“Initial unclear, inconsistent provisions will be definitely scrapped”
Iordache said that the initial unclear or inconsistent provisions in the draft emergency ordinances on the grant of prison pardons and the amendment of the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code will be removed.
“We will take into account the observations that have been made today and those provisions which were initially unclear or inconsistent will be scrapped for sure. I don’t want to specifically tell you what will be removed or if we’ll do so and how the text will look like in the end. I say this again, following the consultations, I have some observations I want to be included in the two regulatory acts,” the JusMin said at the end of the public debate organized at the Justice Ministry.
Iordache said that he cannot say what his recommendations will be before the respective regulatory acts are completed.
“In the first place, I’ll have a discussion with Premier Sorin Grindeanu and we will definitely let you know what solution we’ll assume,” Iordache said.
The JusMin added that he wants clear and consistent laws for every citizen to be able to observe, regardless of his/her judicial knowledge.
“This is actually the mandate I came here with – to repair all elements that are not consistent with a clear modern and European legislation,” Iordache mentioned.
“I’ll come before Gov’t with consistent documents on criminal legislation”
Minister Iordache also announced at the end of the public debate that he will come before the Government with “consistent documents” regarding the criminal legislation, which comply with the outcomes of the initiated public consultation.
Asked what his response is to President Iohannis’s request to the Government to drop actions regarding prison pardons and the amendment of the Criminal Codes, JusMin Iordache replied: “I will come before the Government with consistent documents that are compliant with the public consultation.”
President Iohannis: I ask Government to drop demarches regarding pardons and amendment of Criminal Codes
President Klaus Iohannis is asking the Government to “abandon” its demarches regarding pardons and the amendment of the Criminal Codes, underlining that “the voice of people cannot be ignored.”
“The Government cannot step over the citizens’ will, which is sovereign. The voice of the people cannot be ignored any longer! A solid democracy is one in which the majorities don’t abuse their rights just because they temporary hold power. I request the Government to abandon the demarches regarding pardons and the amendments of the Criminal Codes,” President Iohannis wrote on Monday on his Facebook page.
He emphasised that “Romania only stands to lose from prolonging these situations which have brought tens of thousands of Romanians into the street.”
Iordache also claimed he did not consult Liviu Dragnea or PSD about the two legislative acts, stating that the latter fall within his prerogative as minister.
Asked by journalists whether his party boss Liviu Dragnea asked him to regulate the granting of pardons and the amending of the Criminal Codes, Minister Florin Iordache answered negatively. “Categorically not,” he said.
Iordache also denied consulting on this topic the party whose member he is.
“Undoubtedly not. It’s my prerogative as a minister and the proposal I will present to the Government is the Justice Ministry’s proposal,” Florin Iordache added.
Grindeanu: Pardons should be accompanied by other measures too; I’m waiting to see JusMin’s proposals
Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu stated on Sunday evening that it is not clear to him what the Justice Minister’s proposal on the granting of pardons and the amending of the Criminal Codes will be, stating that the granting of pardons should be accompanied by other measures too.
“This was never about amnesty. (…) At this moment, I’ve asked the Justice Minister [for solutions], bearing in mind a proposal that the Justice Ministry presented 10 days ago, which is in public consultation, which can be improved. The way they will be adopted, whether through emergency ordinance, whether sent to Parliament as bills, or through the assumption of responsibility, all these methods are legal,” Premier Sorin Grindeanu stated.
Sorin Grindeanu also referred to the ECHR’s recommendations, stating that the granting of pardons should be accompanied by other measures too.
“Granting pardons alone does not solve the problem. This pardoning must be accompanied by other measures too. (…) We should come up with alternative measures. We are not inventing house arrest, this law exists in Parliament. All these measures, as a whole, would solve the problem we have at the ECHR, but the granting of pardons is also part of the measures we have to adopt,” Grindeanu added.
In what concerns the statements that President Iohannis made in Strasbourg, Grindeanu said that “the visit at the ECHR probably made him see things other than in a political manner as he did a week before.”
Grindeanu stated that it is not “very clear” to him what the Justice Minister will propose and he is waiting to see his proposals.
“As Premier, I am waiting for the Justice Ministry, because until now it’s not very clear to me what they will propose, but it’s the Justice Ministry’s right, there is a lot of democracy, to come up with the best solution,” Grindeanu said.
Grindeanu asked Minister Florin Iordache to also present the conclusions of the debate he will organise.
“I’ve asked the Justice Minister, considering a proposal the Justice Ministry made 10 days ago, which is in public consultation, which can be improved. The way they will be adopted, whether through emergency ordinance, whether sent to Parliament as bills, or through the assumption of responsibility, all these methods are legal,” the Premier said.
The Premier rejected the accusations per which the granting of pardons was not part of PSD’s governing platform, stating that the measure is included in one of the document’s chapters.
“It does exist in the governing platform: I said in Parliament I want to live in a normal country, with a normal judiciary, where the law is enforced and the citizen who goes before a judge knows he won’t go there in a position of inferiority to the prosecution, but in a strong balance,” the Premier said.
PM: What if the result of the referendum is “no”?
Premier Sorin Grindeanu stated that he does not oppose the referendum triggered by President Klaus Iohannis, however he wondered what would happen if, in an “absurd scenario,” Romanians state at the referendum that they do not want the fight against corruption to continue.
“We’ll see Parliament’s decision. I can tell you, as Prime Minister, that I have nothing against that question,” Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu stated for Antena3 private television broadcaster.
The Prime Minister ironically asked what would have to be done if Romanians say at the referendum that they do not want the fight against corruption to continue.
“The real question is – of course, it’s an absurd scenario – what would we do if the result of the referendum is “no”?” the Premier smilingly asked. He said that the referendum triggered by President Iohannis will cost around EUR 20 million.
Sorin Grindeanu: I plan to have a discussion with President of ECHR in next period
Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu also stated on Sunday, on the Antena 3 private television station, that he plans to have a meeting with the President of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the upcoming period, in order to make a “clear picture” in the context of discussions in Romania regarding pardon.
“I plan in the following period to have a discussion and to go to the ECHR. To have a talk with the President of the ECHR, because it is necessary to make a clear picture, even if currently I have a lot of information, but it’s necessary to make a “real picture,” Grindeanu stated.
He mentioned that such a meeting is “absolutely necessary.”
“I have seen the President’s statement in the plenary meeting and the recommendation he made to Romania and Hungary in order to adopt the example of Italy, stating (…) that it’s related to the internal politics of each member state,” the Prime Minister added.