Thursday, January 16, 2014

Romanian top court rejects MPs' 'super immunity' legislation

Agence France-Presse
January 15, 2014

Romania's Constitutional Court on Wednesday ruled that recent snap amendments to the penal code granting lawmakers immunity from graft charges violated the rule of law, following criticism from the US and European Union countries.

The country's lower-house Chamber of Deputies, where Prime Minister Victor Ponta's centre-left coalition holds a two-thirds majority, in December controversially adopted draft legislation exempting MPs and the president from corruption charges while in office.

But the Constitutional Court rejected the bill, saying in a statement that the proposed amendments "violate several articles of the constitution regarding the rule of law, the equality of rights and the state's obligation to observe the commitments made under international treaties".

The lawmakers' vote last month in favour of what the media dubbed "super immunity" sparked outrage in Romania, attracting criticism from rights groups, prosecutors and judges.

Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and France voiced concern over the vote, while the US embassy said the proposed changes were "a step away from transparency and rule of law".

The executive European Commission meanwhile warned that the amendments would be taken up in its next report on the rule of law in Romania.

The Balkan country, which joined the EU in 2007, is closely monitored by the European Commission over its efforts to step up the fight against corruption.

Several ministers and a former prime minister have been sent to prison on corruption charges in the past two years -- an unprecedented feat in Romania since the fall of communism in 1989 -- and experts say politicians have started to worry about this new-found efficiency.

The government said the amendments were introduced without any consultation with the justice ministry while Ponta was in South Africa to attend Nelson Mandela's funeral.

Ponta has said that the amendments should be submitted to Brussels before being put to a new vote.

Romania's centre-right President Traian Basescu has vowed not to sign the bill into law.

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