“Good cooperation between justice actors can facilitate and improve access to justice for people from vulnerable groups”
Judge Sergiu Caraman, an active member of the Criuleni Dialogue Platform for Access to Justice (DPAJ), is today the interim president of the Superior Council of Magistracy (SCM). We will learn from him about his achievements and how his work in the DPAJ contributed to this performance.
Mr. Caraman, you have been an active member of DPAJ Criuleni since the launch of these platforms in 2020. Did the work within DPAJ influence or help you in better understanding persons seeking justice?
Indeed, I became a member of the Dialogue Platform for Access to Justice (DPAJ) Criuleni since its launch in 2020. I got actively involved because I believe and insist on that only through engagement, we can make changes and move things towards the right direction. Within the Platform I interacted with people and actors from the justice sector (lawyers, prosecutors, police officers, notaries, local public authorities, paralegals, etc.) and thus I was able to understand the problems faced by other officials, who provide public services to citizens.
The courts are, in fact, the last step in solving a problem faced by a person from socially vulnerable groups. But before reaching the court, one has to pass through a rather difficult path and interact with other actors from the justice chain. This where communication and interaction between all actors becomes very important, so as to better understand which are the problems of vulnerable people and how to identify the right solutions to solve their grievances. This is why in the work of the DPAJ great emphasis was put on communication and the way we interact with people, especially those from socially vulnerable groups, who need to be treated without formalism and with a proactive attitude, so that their access to justice is effectively ensured.
As a member of the DPAJ you have interacted with people and actors from the justice area (lawyers, prosecutors, police officers, notaries, LPAs, paralegals, etc.). How can access to justice be facilitated and improved, including for people from vulnerable groups? How can the cooperation with other justice professionals be improved?
If all actors in the field of justice would be actively involved in the promotion of human rights, would provide professional advice at the earliest stages, and identify the most stable solution to one’s problem, then with certainty the person would not only benefit, but also perceive that his/her right to access to justice has been respected. In addition to the direct involvement of professionals in consulting the person and development of brochures explaining in simple and accessible language the steps to be followed to access legal services, the legal education for people, especially for those from socially vulnerable groups, would also be welcomed. This would help improve the understanding of the mechanism for obtaining state-guaranteed legal aid by people with modest incomes who cannot afford the services of a paid lawyer. At the same time, I believe that efficient cooperation and communication between justice actors, focusing on the issue of access to justice for vulnerable persons from the earliest stage, could facilitate and improve access to justice for these persons.
In terms of optimising the cooperation amongst professionals in the field of justice, such like social assistance, healthcare, psychologists, local authorities, and others, I believe, and practice has shown, that the presence of such regional platforms, such as the Criuleni Dialogue Platform for Access to Justice, is a very good solution.
How was the transition from doing justice at the local/regional level to setting the tone for justice reform at the national level?
We all know about the impasse in the justice sector. I took office at exactly that time when the situation in the system needed to be unblocked, so I didn’t have much time to make the transition from delivering justice as a judge to setting the tone for justice reform as a member of the SCM.
One thing is certain: we don’t have much time to settle in and we are doing it as we go along, being fully engaged in justice reform and ensuring access to quality justice, improving legal services to citizens, especially those guaranteed by the state, from which benefit people from vulnerable groups.
The mapping of the courts is also to be optimised, so that better conditions in the courts are created and access to the buildings for people with disabilities is ensured, basic information is made available, etc.
Justice reform is only part of all the conditions that the Republic of Moldova must fulfil as a candidate country for accession to the European Union. Even more needs to be done to ensure access to justice, respect for human rights and the integration of people from vulnerable groups into society.
How is your previous work different from what you are doing now?
As a judge I have done justice in specific cases. As a member of the SCM, together with my colleagues, I intend to contribute to strengthening the justice system, so that every person, whether citizen of the Republic of Moldova, foreign citizen, or stateless person, when coming before a court in our country benefits from quality and fair justice.
Moreover, we place emphasis on ensuring access to justice for people from vulnerable groups, and here I am referring primarily to access to the courts, but also access to primary information. For this to happen, as I mentioned above, we need cooperation between all the actors in the justice system, social assistance, the medical system, the police, and local authorities, to provide a prompt response to the needs of people, especially those from socially vulnerable groups.
What do you like more: to be a judge in Criuleni district or interim president of the SCM?
The profession of judge is as honourable as it is responsible. During more than 11 years of making justice, I have done my job with dedication and abnegation. I am sure that this is how a big part of judges in the Republic of Moldova work.
However, due to some isolated and regrettable cases, which not by their number, but by their magnitude have shocked public opinion at national and international level, as well as the doubts about the promotion of some people in the justice system, the failure to sanction certain deeds of judges, have recently led to the degradation of the image of justice. For these reasons, I have assumed the responsibility and accepted to become the delegate of the judiciary, directly engaged in the reform of justice.
Recently, my fellow members of the SCM have also entrusted me, by their vote, the position of interim president of the SCM. I can assure you that, just as I have dedicated myself to the realisation of justice in the Florești and Criuleni districts, I will do the same in my capacity as interim president of the SCM. In the end it does not matter what position you hold. It is important to be there for the person when he/she needs it and to guide him/her on what and how to do to solve his problem. Sometimes it is quite difficult for a person to understand where exactly to turn for help. That’s why people in different areas need to communicate closely and provide the support they need promptly.
To what extent has your work in the Criuleni DPAJ helped you to shape the future vision of the justice system in Moldova?
Working in the DPAJ and interacting with other professionals, members of the Platform, helped me understand that an impediment to people’s access to justice are not only the complicated procedures, but also the lack of legal literacy amongst persons. Therefore, I understood that to succeed in ensuring people’s access to justice, legal procedures must be simplified, access to legal aid services must be facilitated and, of course, trainings, guides, brochures must be provided, so that accessing and solving a problem before the court is no longer an impediment or a luxury that cannot be accessed by the person.
How do you think, what should authorities/justice officials do to ensure access to quality justice for all?
To ensure quality justice, first and foremost, we need qualified judges, i.e., professional, honest, impartial, and independent. At the same time, qualified staff are needed to assist judges in the justice making process. It is the support staff who interact most with people who come to court. As well, to ensure access for all people to the courts, buildings need to be adapted to the needs of people from vulnerable groups, such as access ramps, sanitary blocks for people with disabilities, markings for the visually impaired or information in different formats for different groups of people. An example of this is the Ungheni Court. Courts should be built along these lines in all the country’s districts, so that citizens can enjoy quality justice.
Besides the qualified judges and good conditions, the first interaction of people from vulnerable groups with other actors or decision-makers remains paramount. It is important that they are properly guided and given the necessary support until their problem is solved. However, for this to become the norm in every locality, all these actors need to be trained and prepared.
I would like to emphasis once again the benefits of creating Dialogue Platforms for Access to Justice in four districts: Soroca, Criuleni, Cimișlia and Comrat. In addition to learning to cooperate with each other, the members of these platforms exchange experiences and best practices, consult each other on specific cases and thus provide prompt and professional responses oriented to people’s needs.
In 2020, with the support of the project “Strengthening efficiency and access to iustice in Moldova”, funded by Sweden and implemented by UNDP, Dialogue Platforms for Access to Justice were created in Criuleni, Soroca, Cimișlia and Comrat districts. Members of the platforms — judges, prosecutors, lawyers, paralegals, police officers, mediators, doctors, representatives of district councils, municipalities, civil society — identify barriers to access to justice and examine solutions to remove them.