It was a Sunday. Together with a few people, I was in a building that is imposing and that is full of traditions and customs. In front of us, were the representatives of this institution who were dressed in a very specific fashion and were doing their job solemnly, according to a well-established procedure. Finally, the public servant addressed us directly and spoke plainly, in our language, about the symbolism of every moment we'd participated in, in order to understand the seriousness and the importance of a wedding ceremony between two young people. What I saw during that day, in church, was something that was very similar to what I do in my day-to-day work as a judge in the municipality of Ungheni, the Republic of Moldova.
To be precise, I impose upon the people participating in a judicial trial to respect certain procedures that are complicated and sophisticated which, for a fair share of them, no one understands. Finally, I often pronounce a decision that, in most cases, changes lives and destinies. In reality, what is actually pronounced is only the minute order, as it's called in Romania. In other words, the court or the judge briefly tells his opinion about the file. For example: In the name of the Law, the court admits the civil action and commands the defendant to pay, to evacuate or to carry out another judicial act.
There are cases where the judge is shorter in his declarations, such as: In the name of the Law, the court rejects the legal action. In both cases, I inform them that the judge's decision will be sent by mail. Consequently, a trial that, practically, takes a few months or a few years, after lots of documents, expert's reports and other explanations given by the parties ends with a brief quote from the judge. In other words, a person, in the best case scenario, has a paper in his hand and sees the judge leaving the courtroom. Or worse, they can receive this decision by mail. Later, the same person receives the judge's decision at home with very, very long phrases, with technical terms that, for the most part, they don't understand and are often in a foreign language. Most of the time, legal experts like Latin very much. I don't know. It's very similar to what happens in a church during mass or when you go to a medic for a consultation. I don't know what it's like in your case, but, in my case, it's like when something I don't know well becomes very unpredictable and untrustworthy.
I think that this feeling of trust led me to a thought. To be precise: that it's time to do justice not only in the name of the law, but also so that people understand it.
Namely, firstly, I started with the easier stuff: I shuffled the position of the tables in the courtroom. Thus, the tables intended for each party are placed face-to-face and the parties were looking at each other without making eye contact with the judge. I changed their position, in order to have eye contact with each party from the file. I deemed it necessary to create an atmosphere, where their problems are discussed and listened to.
Secondly: I started to listen more. In the Republic of Moldova and in Romania, for a civil case, the party is not forced to have a lawyer and it can represent itself alone. Both sides, equally, have the right not to know about the rules of the procedure. Because of this, I deemed it necessary to guide the parties and offer them more time to present their point of view during the session, according to the problems being discussed. I offer them their moment of glory, as I like to call it.
I create the conditions for them to present their personal woes for at least 7 to 10 minutes, without interrupting them, without looking down on them, just because I'm an expert. After all, the courtroom is a battlefield of arguments.
Thirdly: We remade the language of judicial actions. Instead of long texts from the law and huge sentences, I started using short sentences, with a subject and a predicate. For this purpose, the written document was sent to the court reporter who expressed his opinion on what I'd written and came with certain suggestions to modify the text to make it more accessible to the people reading it.
Fourthly: Finally, you'll ask what's up with the priest's sermon. It's simple. After that Sunday, I started to explain the minute order to the participants in the trial. Especially, I communicate to the participants immediately the reasons why I gave that decision for the file. At the same time, I introduce those reasons briefly in the minute order. For example, before, the decision sounded like this: In the name of the Law, the court overrules the action. Full stop. I was turning my back and leaving the courtroom. At the time, pronouncing the decision takes place in the following manner: In the name of the Law, the courtroom rejects the action, especially, the claim about the cancellation of the resignation order because the plaintiff wasn't successful in demonstrating that the resignation demand was registered and written at the insistence of the executive. Moreover, the plaintiff hasn't requested his hearing to confirm the existence of the fact that he was forced to register such a request.
Subsequently, the summary of these arguments is developed in the motivated decision and is dispatched to the participant in the trial. This manner of communicating with the parties had a mixed reception in our collective. A lawyer from Chișinău took over the minute order and posted it on Facebook. Obviously, the camps were split in two. Some of them, even those who are judges, were saying: Hmm... He thinks he's the smartest... Anyway, he's breaking the law and the well-established practice. Others have appreciated this way of working, especially the lawyers and the parties. They were saying: It's a pleasure to read such a minute order, where the court clarifies the reasons for pronouncing the decision and it helps the parties decide whether to appeal or not. I'm not denying that wording or pronouncing a decision in this way comes with other issues: it's hard to say so much in so little space.
Moreover, because of the enormous workload, overdue files accumulate and you risk getting a disciplinary sanction because we live in a country where it only matters how much you do, but not how you do it and what you do.
Still, in that Sunday, the priest's sermon reminded me of an expression often used by legal experts: Justice shouldn't only served, it has to be seen as well. Right now, I believe that you should also hear that justice was served. For this, there's no need for change or for adopting other laws. A change in attitude is necessary. A return to our origins. The judge who says what is right, needs to take responsibility and look both parties in the eyes and have the courage to communicate to them directly, face-to-face, the verdict for their case. Moreover, justice is not for the judges and it's not about judges.
On the contrary, justice starts with people and is made by the people, for the people. I am certain that such an attitude and such a behaviour will provide an answer to the question that is guiding me and which led me to start my career: How would I like to be judged, if I was on the other side of the table?
The People of Justice 2022 shows were produced alongside Decât o Revistă, a team of journalists who believe in the transformational power of stories.
Together with over 1,000 viewers, we imagined what a more just Romania could look like through vulnerability, empathy and the power of example. In each city we brought on stage lawyers, journalists, civic activists and artists whose true stories about justice: how we achieve it, what it means for justice, education, the healthcare system or our cities.