The Romanian Center for European Policies has launched the report entitled „Identifying top performers in the judicial system” which includes the results of the survey on „Perception of the magistrates and reform proposals concerning the performance assessment system”. (Authors: Bianca Toma, Cristian Ghinea, Oana Ganea)

What was our starting point?

Does the Romanian Judiciary have an objective, merit-based assessment system to assess individual and institutional performance, to allow it to know, at any given point, which are the best magistrates to be recruited by the DNA, the DIICOT, the General Prosecutor’s Office or the High Court? Can it identify the best leaders and managers to head the prosecutor’s offices and courts of law, able to conduct objective and merit-based assessments of their subordinates?

Current situation

The professional assessment of magistrates, which should measure individual competence and performance, is, nevertheless, flawed by formalistic practices leading to results that are irrelevant for the system – both in terms of recruitment and in terms of promotion. The results of these assessments: over 90% of the magistrates in Romania receive the qualifier “very good”, based on which they can get a promotion. These are the realities and the context of this report, which features the result of consultations with managers in the judicial system (a qualitative research) and the results of a survey (a quantitative research) conducted between 24 September – 12 October 2015, with responses from 373 prosecutors and 177 judges.

Main findings of the survey

– 60% of the prosecutors and 61% of the judges interviewed believe that the current assessment system does not allow merit-based differentiation between magistrates. More experienced prosecutors agree to a greater extent with this statement, compered to less experienced ones.

– 50% of the prosecutors and 55% of the judges believe that the current system is a formality and does not encourage professional performance.

– On the other hand, 70% of the prosecutors and 61% of the judges believe the current assessment system protects the independence of the magistrates. 70% of judges with an experience of 11 to 15 years agree more with this statement than the other judges. Both prosecutors and judges consider that, through the current procedures, they are protected from any abuses from their superiors.

Who should be making the assessment? Plurality for the option of a higher court/ prosecutor’s office

(Currently, magistrates are assessed in committees established at the level of the management of the courts of law and prosecutor’s offices where the judges or prosecutors in question are conducting their work.

If, in the future, the assessment committees were to change, 43% of the interviewed prosecutors prefer an assessment committee from a superior court or superior prosecutor’s office, while only 15% prefer an assessment committee from another court or prosecutor’s office of the same hierarchical level. Responses from judges are comparable: 38% versus 17%.

– In case of assessments for promotion in management positions, 34% of the prosecutors believe this assessment needs to be made by the hierarchically superior unit (prosecutor’s office or court of law) and 27% believe this should be carried out by a committee within the National Institute for Magistracy. 34% chose not to answer this question. Equally, 31% of the judges believe it is necessary to have a committee within the National Institute for Magistracy and 28% believe the assessment should be carried out by the hierarchically superior unit (prosecutor’s office or court of law).

About the results of the survey (debates held on 9 November 2015)

Cristian Ghinea, director of the Romanian Centre for European Policies: “The big challenge: on the one hand, the people are ok with the system, at least with regard to independence and protection from any abuse by superiors, but, on the other hand, they point out that the current procedure does not allow differentiation between magistrates and it does not encourage performance. The main dilemma which we need to respond to and in respect to which the Superior Council of Magistracy needs to make a decision is the following: how can we preserve independence, while encouraging performance for magistrates?”

Lia Palace, prosecutor, a member of the SCM, coordinator of the working group on the modification of the assessment and promotion regulations for prosecutors: “There was a real need to bring change to the assessment of magistrates. More than 90% of the the judges and prosecutors receive the qualifier “very good”. From my experience as a member of the SCM, I can tell you there have been situations where prosecutors filled a challenge against the grade 9.5, claiming they deserve 10 out of 10. This coefficient, of 90% lead us, the members of the Superior Council of Magistracy to make amendments to the regulations for the assessment of magistrates.”

Monalisa Neagoe, judge, a member of the SCM, coordinator of the working group on the modification of the assessment and promotion regulations for prosecutors: “The initiative started as a result of the shortcomings of the former assessment system and as a result of the constant criticism it received for this reason (…) Currently, magistrates are assessed by their co-workers, and we actually wondered who would be drastic enough to make an objective assessment of their co-workers. One solution would be for the assessment committee to be composed of magistrates from higher courts of law or prosecutor’s offices. Another idea could be to exclude from the assessment judges from the High Court of Cassation and Justice and/ or judges with over 20 years in service. These magistrates could be assessed only in case of improper conduct.”

The report is available here.

The full results of the survey are available here.

Hotnews.ro hosts a resource section which monitored attacks on judicial independence and invites justiciables to express their opinions with regard to this phenomenon and to make proposals to discourage it. (Attacks on the judiciary).

Learn about the citizens’ take on the independence of the judiciary and of magistrates and about how they believe it should be safeguarded, by reading the conclusions of the report here.

The above mentioned reports are published under the project entitled “Performance and independence in the judiciary through active and well-informed citizens” financed through the EEA Grants 2009-2014, within the NGO Fund in Romania.