Justice and injustice from three perspectives: bar, court and prosecution service. Interview with Anatolie Istrate

How does justice and injustice look like to a person who has worked for about 30 years in the legal system, being lawyer, prosecutor and judge in different periods of his life? How does he assess the activity of the three players from the viewpoint of the profession’s purpose? Is the justice sector reform a solution to all the problems faced in the system? Responses to these and other questions can be found in Sabina Rebeja’s interview with lawyer Anatolie Istrate.

– IPN: Mister Istrate, you have gone through the bar, the court and the prosecution service, serving now as a lawyer. When and where did your professional activity start?

– Anatolie Istrate: I started work in 1990 as an investigator in the Prosecutor’s Office. Later I was promoted to deputy prosecutor, deputy prosecutor on county and district prosecutor. Afterward, I took the exams and became a judge. I served as a judge for six years. In 2009, I obtained a lawyer’s license and work as a lawyer now.

– IPN: You now run the own law firm....

– Anatolie Istrate: Yes, the law firm of Anatolie Istrate...

– IPN: You have worked for almost 30 years in the legal sistem. What did you find there on the first interaction whith the sysitem? Did the situation that existed then meet your expectation or nor really?

– Anatolie Istrate: I think it did, but I was at that romantic age ... and it was 1990. It was indeed a situation when only persons with capacities and persons who formed part of the Party of Communists came to work in the prosecution service. I never formed part of this party and was never a Communist, but I was chosen immediately after the faculty, when a delegation from the Prosecutor General’s Office came to the State University and selected graduates of the Law Department to work in the prosecution service. I was very lucky, probably as the other mates, as I worked alongside professionals, honest persons. This is what we do not have now in the prosecution service – professionalism and honesty.

– IPN: When did you see that things started to change? How did they change to the worse if they were initially good in the system?

– Anatolie Istrate: To my mind, things started to deviate in 2008. The situation degraded in 2012-2014. The situation of 2012-2014 led to the current injustice. Justice actually failed. The European funds allocated for justice in the Republic of Moldova were practically wasted. I think we cannot remedy the situation during a short period of time. Political will is needed to change things in the justice sector of the Republic of Moldova. Now we are in the most serious situation. I was one of the lawyers who struggled with the regime in 2016-2019. To say it better, I defended also persons against whom criminal cases were started according to political criteria. I thought then that with the leaving of the regime, we could return to normality, more or less. Now I say it with determination – things worsened and we will be probably unable to remedy the situation in the justice sector of the Republic of Moldova, given the will of the politicians and citizens and also of offenders.

– IPN: You earlier said that you were lawyer for a number of public figures, such as Renato Usatyi and Gheorghe Petic, who were politically affiliated one way or another or were even members of a party or party leaders. Was pressure exerted on you in the period?

– Anatolie Istrate: The series of cases started according to political criteria can continue, as the proceedings brought against our colleague Ana Ursachi and against former acting mayor of Bălți Igor Șeremet, also our colleague, mayor of Drochia Nina Cereteu, mayor of Basarabeasca Valentin Cimpoieș and also Valeriu Cucu, Petic and many others. You should know that I started to offer legal assistance to the opposition in 2013, together with my wife Angela Istrate and other lawyers.  So, the following and intimidations against us started in 2012-2013.

– IPN: And when did they stop?

– Anatolie Istrate: They continue until now. Don’t think that the situation calmed down. But the situation was more serious in the period between 2016 and 2019, until after the elections of 2019. Until then, we, the lawyers, I and my family had been followed. Those who followed us knew when we went to work, when we left and whom he met. Our telephone conversations were tapped. I found special devices in the office. They saw that we found out and followed us near the office. They changed cars, installed devices and tapped […] The most painful thing for a lawyer is when the clients are threatened so that they abandon the lawyers if they want their problem to be solved. This was an illusion as the problem wasn’t solved anyway until the court dropped the case or passed an acquittal judgment. Of the 32 political cases declared by the PACE, which were later confirmed by the prosecutor general, 11 criminal cases involved us. It’s regrettable that after the situation changed, after Mister Stoianoglo took up his duties as prosecutor genital, on five cases we had to go to the Supreme Court of Justice to obtain acquittal.

– IPN: Let’s return to the three important players involved in the administration of justice: lawyer, prosecutor and judge. How do you appreciate their activity in terms of the profession’s purpose?

– Anatolie Istrate: I think all these posts of are important in administering justice in the Republic of Moldova, but cooperation between them is absent. I do not refer to ‘cooperation’ when those mishmashes between the prosecutor, judge and lawyer are witnessed. I mean that process, which can be even creative, within which all the three players show their juridical knowledge in a trial. There is no such effect now. There was such a situation when you received satisfaction between 2000 and 2006. The prosecutors and lawyers were into a competition to provide more convincing evidence for adopting a decision and even the courts of law weren’t afraid to pass acquittal sentences. I can tell you as I worked as a judge and wasn’t afraid to acquit 29 persons based on 29 sentences. Today the judges feel the pressure and are afraid to pronounce acquittal sentences.

– IPN: Why?

– Anatolie Istrate: First of all, they fear they will be immediately blamed by society, will be accused of taking bribe. As justice is perceived like this in our country, when a favorable legal decision on a civil lawsuit is obtained or when a criminal case is dropped, someone will definitely say that the prosecutor or the judge accepted bribe and passed a favorable decision... But these are to blame themselves for this as they created this perception in society.

– IPN: Is the justice sector reform a solution to all the problems faced in the system?

– Anatolie Istrate:  Yes, definitely. All the reforms in the Republic of Moldova can start from the justice sector reform. I’m not a fan of Maia Sandu, but I agree with her statements, when she says that she will submit a bill on the justice sector to Parliament. I fully agree.

– IPN: Should this be a reform different from what has been witnessed until now?

– Anatolie Istrate: Yes, surely. But this should be first of all consulted with specialists. You know how it happens in our country. The laws are drafted ...I have nothing against NGOs, nothing at all, but they are designed by organisms or persons who didn’t work in the field, in the prosecution service, the police, courts of law. When there is only theory and practice is absent, the effect is not the expected one. I was very glad when ... I return again to Mister Stoianoglo as I said that he should be accepted as he is a former prosecutor who knows this work that is not at all easy from inside. There were persons in the prosecution service who didn’t work earlier in the field and the service started to witness shortcomings. I think the biggest mistake in the work of Mister Stoianoglo during a year was the fact that he didn’t make effort to bring back professionals to the service […].

– IPN: A question that would be posed by many peoples involved in trials – why do the trials last so long, for years?

– Anatolie Istrate: It’s a good question. I yesterday had a hearing in a case that started in 2012 and the ordinary court pronounced for 13 times. We or the other side appealed to the Appeals Court and the Appalls Court in 13 cases sent the case back for retrial, accepting either our position or the position of the other side. I also wonder why? Because there is interest, the interest of persons in these cases, the interest of the judge, the interest of the prosecutor, the interest of the lawyer. When the prosecutor and the judge, especially the judge, wait for someone to offer “benefits” in the case [...] there are interests. However, the Penal Procedure Code stipulates reasonable timeframes.

– IPN: But this does not specify these “reasonable timeframes”?

– Anatolie Istrate: The Penal Procedure Code says “reasonable timeframes”, but these timeframes include the behavior of the parties, the difficulty of the case and other circumstances. […] The judges were provided with consultants, clerks. The prosecutors were provided with consultants who get salaries and rather good ones. When those posts were introduced, they argued that the judges and prosecutors were overloaded and their work should be eased so that the reasonable timeframes are respected. Nothing changed now. We have the same delays and violations […].

Other aspects related to his candidacy for the post of prosecutor general, his opinion about the work of the Prospector General’s Office, if the judges, prosecutors and lawyers are part of the mechanism of justice or not and what should an ordinary man do to obtain justice in the conditions existing in the Republic of Moldova can be found in the video version of the interview with lawyer Anatolie Istrate.

The interview was conducted as part of IPN News Agency’s project “Injustice Revealed through Multimedia”.

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