Romania violated the rights of the chief prosecutor of the National Anticorruption Directorate, Laura-Codruta Kovesi, by revoking her from office before the end of her term, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said on Tuesday, stressing that it decided unanimously that the right to a fair trial (Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights) and the right to free speech (Article 10 of the Convention) was violated.
Laura-Codruta Kovesi won on Tuesday at the ECHR the process by which she challenged the revocation decision from the position of chief prosecutor of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), according to a press release of the institution based in Strasbourg.
The case concerns the decision by which Laura-Codruta Kovesi was dismissed from the position of chief prosecutor of DNA before the end of her second term following some criticisms she voiced in connection with the legislative reforms in respect to corruption, states the court, adding that the claimant maintained that she could not challenge the decision in court.
The Court also held that the applicant’s right to freedom of expression had been violated on the ground that she had been revoked because of the criticisms she brought while carrying out her duties in a matter of public interest. One of her tasks as chief anti-corruption prosecutor was to express her views on legislative reforms that could have consequences for the judiciary and its independence, as well as the fight against corruption.
According to the ECHR, the claimant’s early dismissal was contrary to the very purpose of maintaining judicial independence and should have had a discouraging effect on her and on the other prosecutors and judges in their participation in public debates on legislative reforms concerning the judiciary and judicial independence.
President Iohannis: ECHR judgement in Kovesi v. Romania case, unprecedented
President Klaus Iohannis said on Tuesday that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) judgement in the Kovesi v. Romania case is “unprecedented” and that the Constitutional Court of Romania (CCR) has an obligation to review “immediately” not only the decision to dismiss the former chief prosecutor of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA), but also any other decisions made “when judging simple statements, be they political.”
“The ECHR has ruled that Ms Kovesi’s fundamental rights have been violated following the CCR’s decision to remove her from the position of DNA chief prosecutor. Fundamental human rights transcend the borders of a state. Free access to justice and freedom of expression are values. Defying all the arguments I put forward at the time, including those that emphasised the violation of Ms Kovesi’s free access to justice, the CCR decided to remove her from office at the suggestion of an infamous minister. Such an unprecedented judgement by the ECHR cannot remain without consequences as it concerns the authority that is the guarantor of the supremacy of the Constitution,” Iohannis said at the Cotroceni Presidential Palace.
In his view, the credibility of the CCR is “strongly” shaken. “The credibility of the CCR, affected by some controversial rulings of recent years, is now even more shaken. (…) The CCR has an obligation to immediately review not only the decision to remove Ms Kovesi, but also any other rulings made when considering simple statements, be they political,” Iohannis said.
He added that at the 2019 referendum Romanians decided that the powers of the Constitutional Court should be changed.
“Today’s ECHR ruling shows us, if need be, how necessary a constitutional reform of this institution is,” he said.
Iohannis claimed that it was obvious that the incumbent Parliament in its political configuration, dominated by the party that endorsed the removal of Kovesi, proved that “it is not able to make decisions for the protection of citizens.”
“This is the party that for three years has made a goal of disrupting the entire judiciary, by building criminal law designed to protect criminals instead of honest citizens. For three years, under this project built against the most basic rules of operation of a democratic society, the Social Democratic Party (PSD) has orchestrated committees over committees of inquiry designed to discredit all those who could have prevented them from achieving their goal. I do not expect that today, when the ECHR ruled that Ms Kovesi’s fundamental rights were violated, PSD will hurry to set up a parliamentary committee to investigate why that was possible. But I have no doubt that Romanians will punish PSD by vote for all these extremely serious actions,” said Iohannis.
PM Orban: CCR has compromised itself
Chairman of the National Liberal Party (PNL), Prime Minister Ludovic Orban maintains that the Constitutional Court of Romania (CCR) has compromised itself through the ECHR decision in the case of Laura-Codruta Kovesi, stressing the need to re-examine the way in which the Constitutional Court of Romania is made up and operates.
“We have today the confirmation at the level of the European Court of Human Rights that in the Constitutional Court of Romania the decisions made had grounds other than those that should concern the Basic Law. The decision to remove Laura-Codruta Kovesi from office was taken by the CCR on the basis of subjective dispositions and reporting, dominated by the influence, at that time, of Liviu Dragnea [former PSD leader, ed. n.] and the PSD [Social Democratic Party]. There was, at the political level, a taboo subject related to the implementation of the decisions of the Constitutional Court, in the sense of not harming the credibility of a fundamental institution in the Romanian state, as we felt compelled to respect the decisions even when we considered them unfair. Here is the Constitutional Court itself having been compromised by its own decisions that violate the European Convention on Human Rights. This seriously affects the credibility of one of the most important institutions of the Romanian state, and the responsibility goes to the CCR judges who have ruled that they can decide instead of the President of Romania,” Orban says in a statement sent on Tuesday to AGERPRES.
CCR’s Dorneanu: We haven’t been attacked by Kovesi with ECHR; decision to remove her not related to us
CCR (Constitutional Court of Romania) head Valer Dorneanu on Tuesday told AGERPRES that those who want to analyze “objectively and without any biases” the decision taken by the ECHR regarding Laura Codruta Kovesi’s removal as chief prosecutor of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) will notice that “there is no criticism of the Constitutional Court” there.
“I would like to ask all those who want to analyze objectively the ECHR decision, in relation to the Constitutional Court, to notice this: we haven’t been attacked by Mrs Kovesi, we haven’t even been there, and whoever wants to read the ECHR decision objectively and without any biases will see that there is no criticism of the Constitutional Court or of the activity of the Constitutional Court there and will see that, basically, there was no decision of the Constitutional Court’s or a certain gesture of the Constitutional Court that this decision relied upon,” said Dorneanu.
According to him, the decision was based on two articles from the Human Rights Convention invoked by Laurea Codruta Kovesi in her notification, “which referred to a whole different matter.” “Who wants to investigate further and check the notification and also the decision should read them objectively,” said Dorneanu.
PSD’s Romascanu: ECHR decision sanctions a procedure related to rights, freedoms, not PSD
PSD’s (Social Democratic Party) spokesman Lucian Romascanu on Tuesday stated that the ECHR decision regarding Laura Codruta Kovesi sanctions a procedure that has to do with rights and liberties, and PSD “bears no blame” in this case.
“The first comment that we want to make is the one that we usually make, namely that we do not comment on the decision of any court, all the more of the European Court of Human Rights. Any decision of a court should be applied,” Romascanu told AGERPRES.
He added that it came as no surprise the fact that Prime Minister Ludovic Orban blamed PSD for Romania’s condemnation by the ECHR.
“Mr Orban’s accusation came as no surprise for us because we all know that both Mr Orban and Mr Iohannis blame PSD for everything every time they hold a public statement. PSD bears no blame in this. The European Court did not find a deviation on the merits, but only a procedure, and what it actually says is that Mrs Kovesi did not have the possibility to challenge her dismissal because she couldn’t challenge the report of the Minister with the proposal addressed to the President to dismiss her. This means that the ECHR decision actually sanctions a procedure that has to do with rights and liberties and it doesn’t have the effect of a remedy, meaning that it does not restore Mrs Kovesi as head of the DNA. It is possible we have here a problem of a constitutional nature, as there is no way to challenge such decision, which means that we need to intervene and remedy this. But, I repeat, first of all, the decision of the ECHR must be observed, and we need to understand that this decision refers to a procedure and not the merits,” said Romascanu.
Justice Ministry to propose stripping former minister Toader of Venice Commission membership
The Justice Ministry announced on Tuesday that it will propose to the government stripping former Justice Minister Tudorel Toader of Venice Commission membership following the implications of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) judgement against Romania in a case that involved the dismissal from office of former chief prosecutor with the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) Laura Codruta Kovesi.
“After consultations with the prime minister of Romania, and following the implications of the ECHR judgement in the Kovesi v. Romania case, regarding the credibility of the Romanian government’s commitment to the independence of prosecutors and respect for the rule of law, the Ministry of Justice will submit the proposal that the Romanian Government send to the Venice Commission a request for the statutory provisions of the commission regarding Mr Tudorel Toader to be applied, namely that he will be removed as a member on the Venice Commission,” according to a press statement released on Tuesday by the Justice Ministry.
The ministry says Toader’s term on the Venice Commission was extended in 2018, during his tenure as Romania’s justice minister.
CSM after ECHR ruling in Kovesi case: Interpretation of Constitution cannot prejudice principle of prosecutors’ independence
The interpretation of the Constitution regarding the Justice Ministry’s authority over prosecutors cannot prejudice the principle of their independence, Prosecutors’ Section of the Superior Council of Magistracy (CSM) has stated on Tuesday, in the context of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling regarding the removal from office of former prosecutor-in-chief of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) Laura Codruta Kovesi.
“The Prosecutors’ Section argues that it is unfortunate to find a violation of the fundamental rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights through a procedure carried out against a senior magistrate of the Public Ministry, a procedure that concluded with the decision to remove her from office,” a Prosecutors’ Section release sent to AGERPRES on Tuesday informs.
According to the quoted source, the Prosecutors’ Section also reiterates in this context the need to urgently amend the Romanian legislation governing the procedures for the appointment and removal in high positions within the Public Ministry, in agreement with the constant recommendations of international bodies, in view of strengthening the Prosecutors’ Section’s role within the Superior Council of Magistracy.
Moreover, the Section also underscores that the interpretation of the Romanian Constitution aimed at the authority of the Minister of Justice over prosecutors “cannot prejudice the principle of the independence of prosecutors.”
Ambassador Zuckerman praises ECHR’s Laura Codruta Kovesi ruling
The European Court of Human Rights issued a decision that reemphasizes the paramount import of the rule of law in a democracy. Without recourse to a free and independent judiciary there is no freedom or democratic process, Adrian Zuckerman, the U.S. Ambassador in Romania stated according to press release issued.
“ The Court ruled today that Laura Codruţa Kövesi was wrongly terminated as head of the DNA. President Klaus Iohannis praised the decision. We agree with President Iohannis that Ms. Kövesi’s fundamental rights were infringed upon and that free access to justice and freedom of expression are essential values of a democratic society. This decision is an admonition against political interference in judicial matters to avoid criminal prosecution,” the American diplomat emphasized according to the release issued on Tuesday by the U.S. Embassy.
He also underlined that the United States will always support the principles of democracy, fundamental human rights and the rule of law.
“As a recipient of the 2014 U.S. Embassy’s Woman of Courage award, Ms. Kövesi, now head of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, exemplifies the values of courage, justice and honor. We commend her again today. The U.S. will continue to support the independence of the Judiciary and Prosecutors to combat corruption with all available tools,” showed the U.S. diplomat.