This edition’s guest is the Secretary of State of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Moldova, Veronica Mihailov-Moraru. With a beautiful career in the legal profession but also with a great deal of involvement as an expert and consultant in human rights projects, Veronica Mihailov-Moraru talks about why it is not easy at all to be a lawyer in the Republic of Moldova or why justice reform is facing considerable resistance. This episode is designed and moderated by the guest host Cristian Gologurschi, a final year student at the “Mihai Eminescu” College in Soroca. Cristian is to decide in which field to start his career, and jurisprudence is one of his options. 

Cu DREPTul: You have worked as a lawyer for a good part of your career, how could you describe this profession? 

Veronica Mihailov-Moraru: It is not easy at all to be a lawyer in the Republic of Moldova. First, it is a continuous test of your psychological and professional endurance, so you have to constantly adapt.

It is a continuous test of your principles and your character, because the situations can be multiple and quite challenging, and the borderline, let us call it so, between integrity and situations, because you have to draw it sometimes, is very thin in the Republic of Moldova.

It is also a very good opportunity to always learn, on the other hand, so you are constantly active. Unfortunately, this is not a good thing as the law has been changing a great deal in the past years. If you are a lawyer, you need to be aware of all the changes to be able to cope with civil or criminal case pleadings, or with any consulting you provide, which is not impossible, if that is what you really want. 

Cu DREPTul: What cases have impressed you, have marked you, have moved you deeply as a person, but also as a professional?

Veronica Mihailov-Moraru: I think I would divide my professional experience into two parts: first – the seven or eight years in which I worked as a public lawyer, and second – the one in which I was a private lawyer. During the times as a public lawyer, there were many cases that struck me, so to speak, in terms of the internal and social issues that people face, for example, the case of 7 April 2009 chased me for a long time, as I had represented some of the young people who had been abused. Together with them, I had to fight in court two or three times before I reached the investigative judge, because prosecutors many times refused to start the criminal investigations. In one case I reached the ECtHR.

Cases of juveniles, coming from vulnerable families are just as important to me, as they often end up in criminal cases and it is not necessarily the problem that they did it knowingly, but the fact that they were determined by the difficult situation in their families or the lack of education on values and principles, which is already a matter of social accountability as well.

If speaking about the period when I was a private lawyer, the ones that marked me were the cases in which I represented the “Diaspora” case, in 2016, and the “Diaspora vs. Moldova 2” case, in 2021, when the number of polling stations was initially very brutally reduced; the case in which I represented Judges Domnica Manole and Ludmila Ouș; the case of a dentist, an extraordinary and special woman who had been a domestic violence victim for many years, both she and her daughters. I tried to help her as much as I could but the procedural impediments were so great there as her ex-husband was a representative of the law enforcement bodies and offered great resistance, and, by the way, that was one of the cases that brought me to a state of total disappointment with our system in 2019. 

Cu DREPTul: What are the weaknesses of our justice system and what are the practices through which we can enhance its quality? 

Veronica Mihailov-Moraru: Obviously, we have a great deal of problems in the justice system and issues that have been talked about continuously for so many years. There have been attempts at reform and there have been some rather good beginnings of reform. We cannot say that things have not improved but they have not improved up to the citizens’ expectations and principles when it comes to fair and sound justice.

It is obvious that corruption, superficiality, the interests in certain cases or the interests of the people involved, a number of social problems, are all in general issues that affect the quality of justice. We cannot omit the large volume of cases, the large number of cases that both prosecutors and judges have to examine.

What we must understand here is that the higher the workload, the more difficult it is for a judge, even the most professional one, to go into all the details and make a reasoned and perspicacious judgment on his case. There are many problems and especially because we speak about a long period of almost 30 years in which there have been all sorts of schemes, like one step forward, two steps back, but we believe that things are slowly changing. It is certain that there is a very strong will, including at the leadership level, to improve the situation in the judiciary.

Cu DREPTul: We already know that the field of justice is one of the most corrupt systems. How wrong would I be if I said that the field of justice is the most corrupt? I am not saying it as my personal opinion but a great deal of people think so. 

Veronica Mihailov-Moraru: Sometimes it takes one case of corruption to happen or for its impact to be so strong that it cast a very negative shadow over the whole of society about justice or the rule of law being corrupt. It is already obvious that we have a high level of corruption in the justice system and this is what polls have been telling us in the past years as well as the multiple complaints, petitions, convictions, litigations, convictions, including by the ECtHR, and various arbitrary decisions.

However, this does not mean that we do not have integral and honest professionals. It is for such integral and honest professionals that we must do everything we can to eradicate this corruption and bad situation in justice and make people have trust in it. 

Cu DREPTul: There has been talk for years about justice reform, what does it entail and what stage are we at?

Veronica Mihailov-Moraru: Indeed, there has been talk for many years and there have been attempts to reform the judiciary and we cannot say that there are no positive changes in the justice system, but, as I said earlier, one step forward was often followed by two steps back and many very good initiatives at one point got stuck. For the time being, what I can also say from the perspective of the Ministry of Justice is that we are firm in claiming that justice reform has begun, but it is only the beginning.

The resistance is quite high and we have a lot of work to do, especially after 30 years in which things have got so tangled up and the work is quite complex and delicate.

We have started it, however, and we hope that through those mechanisms of extraordinary evaluation and a number of changes to the legislation that we want to make we will finally establish a solid and clean foundation on which to build again the principles of sound justice. 

Cu DREPTul: What are the main impediments or problematic areas that somehow prevent the free access of Moldovan citizens to justice, to information about justice?

Veronica Mihailov-Moraru: Access to justice is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution as well. If we are talking about the mechanism and the obligation of each state, we cannot say we do not have a mechanism for ensuring access to justice for every citizen in the Republic of Moldova. However, when we speak about access to justice, it has more than one component.

The current gaps in the access to justice are related to the efficiency of certain ways, quality, promptness, and the criteria to benefit.

For example, to be more specific, we have a state-guaranteed legal aid system that offers people who lack funds the possibility to hire a private lawyer, based on supporting documents, and they are offered a free state lawyer. However, I would consider – and I am working on this now – that access to justice is somehow incorrectly treated. These criteria, for example, for people with disabilities, whose only means of subsistence is an allowance, and that allowance may be even higher than the minimum income a person should have to be entitled to state-guaranteed legal aid. It would not be fair for a disabled person to be deprived of their right to state-guaranteed legal aid only because their allowance is higher, because if they spent it all on a lawyer, they would not have any means to live on, based on their particular situation.

Another example of restricted access to justice is when one has filed a complaint that has not been examined timely or has been ignored, or is treated as unfounded or has not been examined at all, which violates the reasonable timing principle. Of course, the legislation in the field of justice is constantly being improved so that it meets all the criteria for an improved access to justice.

This material was developed as part of the Strengthening Efficiency and Access to Justice in Moldova” Project, implemented by the UNDP Moldova, with the financial support of Sweden. The views are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UNDP and Sweden.

This text is an excerpt from the CuDREPTul podcast. The full version, audio and text, exists only in Romanian.