Camelia Bogdan v. Romania: a case of arbitrary suspension of a judge - Rule of Law Programme Southeast Europe
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Background of the suspension from duty
The applicant is a judge from Bucharest who, in the line of duty, convicted the Romanian politician and businessman Dan Voiculescu to a long prison term for fraud and money laundering in 2014.
In 2017 (as it happens, the same year Voiculescu was released early from prison after serving less than three years of his ten-year sentence), Judge Bogdan was suspended from office. The reason given for this measure was her participation as an expert in a training course for the Romanian Ministry of Agriculture in 2014, for which she received a fee. This expert mission had previously been approved by the President of her court. A paid consulting activity was inadmissible according to the judiciary law applicable at that time. Later on, Judge Bogdan ruled in a case in which the Ministry was a party.
As a result, the Judicial Inspectorate began disciplinary proceedings against Judge Bogdan in 2016. The Judicial Inspectorate found it problematic that the ministerial department which paid the applicant an expert fee was later a party in a court case presided over by her. In the view of the Judicial Inspectorate, the judge should have taken a formal leave of absence for the duration of the training course. Her failing to show up for work during the training course was considered "unjustified". Ms. Bogdan unsuccessfully tried to challenge the disciplinary proceedings on the grounds that the training in question had been an (admissible) educational activity. Based on the decision of the Judicial Inspectorate, the Romanian Supreme Council of Magistrates (hereinafter "Supreme Judicial Council") decided to suspend the applicant from office.
The judge’s suspension lasted from March 21 to December 13, 2017, while her pay was stopped accordingly. In a case filed by Judge Bogdan, the Supreme Court of Romania later on ruled to terminate the suspension and instead transfer the judge to the Court of Appeal in Târgu-Mureș (German toponym: Neumarkt am Mieresch), 400 km from Bucharest. The Romanian Constitutional Court shared the views of the Supreme Judicial Council in the related proceedings, namely that the services provided against remuneration represented a consulting service, which in the case of the applicant was incompatible with her judicial function; therefore, she had violated the judicial duty of care.
As far as consenting to Ms. Bogdan's participation as an expert in the training course is concerned, according to media reports, the Court President of her court was unaware of the fee arrangements.
As a result, the applicant was attacked in a number of media reports, before the Bucharest court issued an official press release. According to media reports, it was insinuated that she was guilty of corruption and money laundering. The Supreme Judicial Council refused to comment on this.
In the proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, the applicant subsequently complained of a violation of (1) her right to a fair trial and (2) her personality rights. Essentially, these violations mainly consisted in the lack of judicial procedures in disciplinary proceedings, namely that the person concerned had no effective access to a court. Furthermore, due to an intense media coverage, Ms. Bogdan had suffered a loss of reputation, which could not be remedied at the national level.
On the first question, the Romanian Constitutional Court had already expressed its opinion in favour of the applicant prior to the ECtHR judgment of 20 October 2020: the Parliament had failed to provide a legal remedy against the disciplinary measure of a temporary suspension of judges. A review by a court of law was thus excluded. Although the respective judge was allowed to challenge the relevant measure once, the legal framework as it stood in 2017 offered no effective remedy, but rather an illusory one.
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