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18th Jan 2020

Strasbourg backs Romanian judge in jewellery-for-verdicts case

  • Strasbourg judges' diplomatic immunity extends to their wives and children, says the court (Photo: Council of Europe)

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has thrown its weight behind one of its judges who claimed diplomatic immunity for his wife, a Romanian top-judge investigated for corruption.

"The Court is concerned that in carrying out a search in the home of the Romanian judge as part of an inquiry concerning allegations about his wife the rules on immunity may not have been respected," the Strasbourg-based court said in a press release on Wednesday (19 October).

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Bucharest should have asked the ECHR to lift the immunity of its Romanian member, Corneliu Birsan, before raiding his and his wife's house located in a Romanian mountain resort, it explained.

"At the present time no request for a waiver of the immunity has been presented to the Court," the statement added.

Romanian prosecutors responded on Thursday by saying that the investigation is not targeting the ECHR judge or his activities - for which he is granted diplomatic immunity - but his wife, Gabriela Birsan, a judge in Romania's highest appeals court suspected of having issued favourable verdicts to a businessman who allegedly offered her jewellery and expensive trips abroad.

The Birsans' claim for immunity was rejected on Tuesday by Romania's top magistrate council, who had also granted prosecutors permission to raid the house. But if the ECHR is proven right, the whole case may be dropped.

"What anti-corruption prosecutors want is to continue the investigation, in line with all legal and ECHR rules, especially since these are suspicions of corruption at a highest level - a judge sitting in Romania's highest court," Livia Saplacan, spokeswoman for the anti-corruption prosecutor's office told this website.

The case is just one in a series of high-level corruption files which were opened in Romania in the past five years, few of which have targeted judges so far.

Procedural appeals and a reluctance to hand down tough sentences have prevented courts from sending most of these suspects behind bars. This is one of the main issues in the yearly EU commission reports on Romania and Bulgaria's justice reform.

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