We can say that lawyers are the main actors on which the state-guaranteed legal aid system is based. Public lawyers, far fewer in number, currently only 12, work exclusively with the four territorial offices of the National Council for the Provision of State Guaranteed Legal Aid, as opposed to on-demand lawyers, who are contracted and provide this assistance in parallel to their private work as defenders.
Ludmila Spinu, doctor of law, associate professor, is one of the 12 public lawyers in the Republic of Moldova. With over 20 years of experience in law, mostly as a public defender, she believes that justice reform, primarily, needs a change on the inside.
Cu DREPTul: What do public lawyers do?
Ludmila Spînu: “We, the public lawyers, have put our shoulders to a diverse documentation of the cases we represent. As a priority, sometimes we chose certain cases to come up with the identification of the problems and a proposal of solutions. We were the ones who developed and promoted the quality standards of lawyers who provide guaranteed legal aid, obviously, through the National Council for State Guaranteed Legal Aid, so as to improve this system, to build and obtain credit from our clients, so that they no longer ask each other, ‘What lawyer do you have – a private or a public one?’” At this point, we cannot say that all things have been completed; we are obviously not even talking about ‘ideal’, because this is a living body in which it is necessary to constantly invest, to identify the problems.”
Cu DREPTul: To what extent has it been successful, because it is been a rather short period of 10 years?
Ludmila Spînu: “More or less…”
Cu DREPTul: To what extent has it been possible to change the external image of the public lawyer and the way in which those inside, including colleagues, perceive it? Because this is also important, how you are perceived by the other actors.
Ludmila Spînu: “That’s right. Obviously, you also build your image in front of judges and prosecutors; you should know that they are the actors who often ask the question: “Are you ex officio or are you a private lawyer?” I ask them back, “What is the need for this question?”, because that question, in my opinion, should not exist. Nor should an answer to this question from the lawyer follow, nor should the lawyer make statements such as, “I am ex officio or I have been appointed by a decision.” This, from the beginning, sets a context that it is something else.
I believe and I felt on my own that judges also have a different attitude; sometimes they are surprised when you offer a service – ‘Why are you still in the system?’ Well, I say, ‘For you to ask about it’.
In my opinion, the National Council for State Guaranteed Legal Aid should ‘hunt’ for those lawyers who are honest, good, and perform well. This would greatly facilitate, and it should keep such lawyers in various ways – and I do not mean that it should pay differently, the pay would be the same – by engaging them in different projects, by using them as trainers, etc. I see such actions necessary in order to keep the lawyers who would help this system, would help it this way, as this is obviously the image of the state as well.”
Cu DREPTul: How human is the legal profession in the Republic of Moldova, in general, or justice, in fact, more specifically and more generally?
Ludmila Spînu: There is room for humanization in any field but we must find the place among the rules of law applied correctly, applied correctly in relation to both the victim and the defendant. At present, to apply a penalty of a fine of 60 thousand lei for an act of hooliganism on a person who has three minor children and his wife has died, I do not think so…, where it is possible to apply 20 thousand. Here I see the application of this principle and there is room for the principle of humanism.”
Cu DREPTul: If you mentioned the change of lawyers and of the legal profession, and the mentality of lawyers, professionals, then let me ask you – since you have been working, what changes for better or for worse have you seen, in general, in the justice system?
Ludmila Spînu: “The system has changed, the legal profession has been given a leading role, even if we are still fighting for this status, but this has been imposed because we are part of the Convention and so the vision is different.”
Cu DREPTul: You mean, it is not a formal actor anymore?
Ludmila Spînu: No, from formal, it has been transposed into life, so the actor has become viable, with implications, and so on. Even if sometimes fragmented, we are not taken seriously by certain categories, or things like that, you have to fight and you have to impose yourself as a subject, as in life. At the same time, the legal system has changed, it has become more transparent, even if there are still cases, but it has become transparent, from the formality that hearings were public, but, in fact, they weren’t public, now they are public. It is natural and real that people can participate.
As I was saying, the legal culture of Moldovans is still low but let us mention that the media talk everyday about the law, which was not the case before, less than about economy, unfortunately, but this is it.
I am glad that you have to change one’s mindset so that they understand it is necessary first of all to go to a lawyer. I mean, one must become educated from a legal point of view as well, know what their risks are, how they should proceed, so that to avoid ending up with ugly things.
We were also at the stage where we had to untangle lots of relationships, because they were so tangled, to switch from a public law system to a private one and, imagine, there were so many things mixed up and many relationships so difficult to arrange, but the change for the better is that it has helped to enlighten people, and the professionalism of lawyers has hugely increased. Lawyers began to be appreciated and have become personalities involved in key positions in the state.
Cu DREPTul: Does what you said somehow involve reform?
When I studied law, we were told that we created the rule of law. I didn’t quite understand then how to create the rule of law, nor did I understand for another 10 years what the rule of law was. You should know that since I also work in the academia, I was starting many of my scientific implications also with the rule of law i.e. I was doing it unconsciously. I think, 80% of those who have been involved in scientific activities have used the concept of the rule of law.
This is how we are now with the reform of the judiciary. I don’t know how long the justice reform will last, everyone sees it from their point of view. Ours tried to see the reform of the judiciary, to change the courts, to merge them, to separate them… Let’s talk about the fact that, for example, certain specialized courts have been removed. Why have they been removed? Was it because it was not beneficial for separate cases to be examined by specialized judges? I don’t think so. They were removed because some ugly precedents had formed there, while, believe me, some specialized courts, for example, on minors, are absolutely necessary.
This is still justice reform but specialized institutions have been removed. I don’t know if it’s the best example or if the courts have been merged and now people travel with difficulty and so on. This is still justice reform.
I believe that justice reform, and probably more people think so, is about changing the mentality.
The first thing to do is to give the judge a remuneration so that he knows that he has security and he is not interested in anything else. ‘I have my pay behind me, I put on the bridle and I work according to the Criminal or Civil Code’. This has happened in virtually all states that have changed something in their legal systems. We don’t have to spend money on projects and merge institutions, the solution, in fact, is very simple and I don’t think everyone fails to see what the key solution is in this whole system change history.
My hope now is that this system will be reset, it will self-reset, some elements that were related to influences and pressures will disappear and I believe that the system will reset itself on its own.
You know, these things would be imposed naturally. We have to work some more on the independence of judges, independent also in terms of their relations with the prosecutors, because, in fact, all the actors in this system are very well trained now, and I have high hopes that things will change and that many things will happen by themselves, not necessarily under influences.”
Cu DREPTul: In this connection, what changes are needed to improve the state of affairs in the justice system?
Ludmila Spînu: “Justice reform must come from within the actors of the state system, most of it must come from here. I’m not saying that we, the lawyers, don’t have anything to change, we have to change the mentality a little bit, because things have to unfold naturally, and so on.”
Cu DREPTul: Are you referring to the police, investigators, prosecutors, judges?
Ludmila Spînu: Exactly! I already see a small change in the bodies at the criminal investigation phase, in the police, in the prosecutor’s office, although, well, the public expects changes in one day and all at once. I personally see them; some of those visions of the ‘we are the main ones’ type have disappeared. It is not the prosecutors who are the main actors. Build an elite type for some time, then remove the elite type, I am not against specialized prosecutors… ”
Cu DREPTul: Have they been or should they be removed?
Ludmila Spînu: Well, I think it’s changing. With the removal of some actors, we are talking about the staff, I see a change in mentality. You have to look at the things that are in someone’s service, in the service of the state, in the service of the criminal investigation body – this is what I see as a change that must be present in our country.
This is exactly what must happen to judges, as I was saying, they are well-trained, there is room for more. In the justice reform, we are talking about judges being the actors who really come to assess the cumulative evidence. That’s it. I see a reform coming from the moment when, let’s call things by their names, appropriate salaries are paid, obviously, taking into account the context of the Republic of Moldova, pressure is eliminated, including from the public space, judges judge exactly by the evidence. That’s it.”
Cu DREPTul: You have mentioned several times that legal culture is a problem. In general, can we say that there is a trend?
Ludmila Spînu: “I am still indignant that these are simple things from the legal field and people do not understand them, to which I always reply: “Well, you are in the legal field, but people do not know it”.
I think it should be known at this stage, it probably had to be included in the high school program. If one does not pursue legal studies, they still must deal somehow with certain things, they go to a lawyer but won’t take any issue to the lawyer, they must understand the difference between a criminal case and a civil one.
For example, one has bought a phone, which in three days doesn’t work anymore. He goes to the company and says, “Look, my phone doesn’t work, I don’t want this phone anymore, give me my money back”. People from the company answer, “We can’t give you the money, the money was paid by someone else, you go to them.” Stuff like this… He goes to the police and writes a complaint, two, three, four. What does the police have to do with it? This has to do with civil law, one must take it to court. So, these are basic things but they are not known, are they? If I was to assess it, on a scale from 1 to 10, we are somewhere at 3. We were at 1, we were at zero, but we work hard and tell people that they need to document themselves.
For this, it is necessary to include an induction course in high school education. For those involved in the legal system – judges, prosecutors, lawyers – it is really necessary to come out with information, with continuous information. We should also get people used to going to a lawyer if they have a legal issue, because we have many lawyers now.
This text is an excerpt from the CuDREPTul podcast. The full version, audio and text, exists only in Romanian.