The European Court of Human Rights, ECHR, ruled on Tuesday that Romania violated Laura Codruta Kovesi’s rights to a fair trial and freedom of expression when removing her from the country’s top anti-corruption prosecutorial job.
Kovesi, who is now the EU’s chief prosecutor, was dismissed in May 2018 when the Constitutional Court ordered President Klaus Iohannis to sign a decree removing her from the post as the government demanded. Iohannis had until then refused to sanction Kovesi’s dismissal.
Prior to her sacking, Kovesi had publicly criticised the legal reforms being pushed by the government at the time, which was led by the Social Democratic Party or PSD.
The PSD’s drive to shorten the statute of limitations and prison terms for certain corruption offences and the creation of a new judicial body to oversee magistrates and prosecutors was harshly criticised in Romania and by the European Commission as a threat to judicial independence.
The ECHR said in a statement announcing Tuesday’s ruling that Kovesi’s removal “must have had a chilling effect on her and other prosecutors and judges in taking part in public debate on legislative reforms affecting the judiciary and judicial independence”.
The PSD government invoked Kovesi’s public statements and her alleged unconstitutional practices as head of the National Anti-Corruption Authority as justification for her removal.
But according to the ECHR’s ruling, Kovesi was not given the opportunity “to bring a claim in court against her dismissal”, as the Constitutional Court ruling on the issue only examined “the formal aspects of the presidential decree for her removal and not her substantive argument that she [Kovesi] had been incorrectly removed for criticising the legislative changes in corruption law.”
Kovesi, who in October last year became the first EU chief prosecutor, did not ask for financial compensation when she took the case to the ECHR.
In a statement after the ECHR ruling, she said that it “protects … all magistrates [in Europe] from discretional political interference from representatives of other [state] powers.”
Romania’s centre-right Prime Minister Ludovic Orban, who is President Iohannis’ ally, said that the ECHR decision shows that the country’s Constitutional Court – which is widely seen as leaning towards the PSD – “compromised itself” by forcing Iohannis to sign Kovesi’s dismissal.