UPDATE 03.03.2022: The Buzău Court also rejected the Public Prosecutor’s appeal against the Buzău Court’s decision to annul the criminal prosecution acts carried out by the criminal investigation bodies and sent the case back to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
UPDATE 20 January 2022: The Buzău Court finds that the documents submitted by the Public Prosecutor’s Office (minutes of the report of the suspect, then of the defendant, of the defendant’s statement) are null and void and requests the exclusion from the file of the evidence representing the statements made by Mr Matei as suspect and defendant. The Court finds that the acts of criminal prosecution are null and void (order for the initiation of criminal proceedings) and returns the case to the Buzău District Prosecutor’s Office. Read more here.
In short: all the documents on which the Public Prosecutor’s Office based its request for a sentence of 1 year’s imprisonment with execution have been annulled and the file must be entirely rebuilt if the Public Prosecutor’s Office wishes to uphold the charges.
“This case is extremely suggestive of the way justice and social assistance in Romania relate to people with intellectual disabilities.”
_ Ștefania Dascălu, collaborating lawyer at the Centre for Legal Resources (CLR).
The news that the first person behind bars for thwarting the fight against diseases in Romania is a person with intellectual disability, a former beneficiary of the placement centres and for adults with disabilities, made the rounds of the Romanian press. Less well known is the fact that this was not the only injustice done to Mr Matei Strugurel (Mr M.S) during the period between his hospitalisation, incarceration and until his release from Focșani Penitentiary last night, 7 October 2021, after the court’s ruling.
➖ On 19.04.2020 Mr M.S. is tested for SARS-COV2 virus, but leaves the county hospital in Buzău before the negative test is validated;
➖ On 20.04.2020 the police officer finds him in Buzău train station, brings him back to the hospital, and criminal proceedings are started against him;
➖ After 2 months and 2 statements of suspect and defendant, Mr. M.S. goes to Constanta to work;
➖ Mr M.S. informs the police officer that he is in Constanta. The officer tells him: “it’s not up to me anymore”.
➖ On 10.12.2020 he is sentenced to 1 year imprisonment with execution, being tried in absentia and unlawfully summoned to the address where he declared he does not live;
➖ On 22.12.2020 CRJ files an appeal on his behalf, without knowing where he is, based on the decision of the Dean of the Bucharest Bar Association to represent Mr. M.S. pro bono, when his rights (person without material means) are prejudiced by delay;
➖ The Court of Appeal refuses the lawyer of the CLR the right to defend Mr M.S.’s case;
➖ The Court of Appeal does not recognise the decision of the Dean of the Bucharest Bar;
➖ The Court of Appeal summons him during the trial twice and issues a warrant for his arrest, but he is not found;
➖ Only 2 days after the sentence becomes final, on 29.07.2021, the authorities find him and arrest him. More on this here.
➖ One month after his incarceration, the lawyer of CLR hardly manages to find out where he is imprisoned and contacts Mr. M.S. for the first time and visits him at Focșani Penitentiary;
➖ Mr M.S. applies, through the CLR’s lawyer, for the criminal proceedings to be reopened, for an appeal and for an appeal to be reopened with a new deadline;
➖ The trial of the application is postponed twice because his file does not reach the Buzău Court. During all this time, Mr M.S. is kept behind bars in a room with 44 people.
➖ On 07.10.2021, the Buzău Court found that the summoning of Mr. M.S. was carried out illegally and ordered the dissolution of the sentence of conviction and the reopening of the criminal proceedings.
➖ On 20 January 2022, the Buzău District Court found that the documents submitted by the Public Prosecutor’s Office (minutes of the report on the suspect’s status, then the defendant’s status, the defendant’s statement) were null and void and requested the exclusion from the file of the evidence representing the statements made by Mr Matei as suspect and defendant. The Court finds that the acts of criminal prosecution are null and void (order for the initiation of criminal proceedings) and returns the case to the Buzău District Prosecutor’s Office. Details here.
None of the above was to Mr M.S.’s understanding. He often called his lawyer to ask: “So…do you think justice is done?” or “What did the big people in the courtroom say?”.
The “big men in the courtroom” considered at the 12th hour that Mr M.S. had no business behind bars and ordered his immediate release.
It is very sad that we had to work so hard to prove it. Here is the decision published yesterday.
The next step is to reopen the criminal proceedings concerning Mr M.S.’s act of leaving the hospital before the negative test result was known.
We note that the act of which he is accused was committed at a time (20.04.2020) when the state of isolation/forced confinement was illegal, an aspect found by the Constitutional Court by decision no. 458 of 25.06.2020 and by the Courts of Brasov and Iași, in similar cases.
The Iași Court holds that, in the light of the provisions of Article 5 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the lawful detention of a person liable to transmit a contagious disease is a deprivation of liberty which may be accepted in a society in order to ensure public health and safety, but which is permitted only if the conditions and procedure laid down by law are met, arbitrariness being excluded. It must also be possible for any person to challenge the measure of social medical detention in court within a short period of time, so that, if the measure is found to be unlawful, they can be released. In other words, the person to whom the measure of social medical detention is applied must have an effective right of access to justice, which ensures that the action is brought to court quickly and that the person unlawfully detained is released.
The CLR thanks Ms Teodora Godincă, a lawyer with outstanding experience in the field of criminal law and human rights, for her pro bono assistance and for her efforts in support of the case. The CRJ also thanks Mr Ion Dragne, Dean of the Bucharest Bar Association, for the decision to represent him.
We will be back with details of the case in the near future.
We look forward to being able to say to Mr M.S. at the end of this process: “Yes, we believe justice has been done”.
For more information on this case you can contact the Center for Legal Resources, through lawyer Ștefania Dascălu, on 0737.228.384.