Lect. univ. dr. Daniel Niţu is in the Criminal Sciences teaching staff of Babeș-Bolyai University, being a teaching assistant for both second year and masters degree law students. He has a Ph.D. in Criminal Law since 2012 and was a member on several committees for the Ministry of Justice and the Superior Council of Magistracy (CSM). He is also a member of Cluj Bar.
Lawyr.it: Why did you choose a legal career? Was there a deciding moment for your decision, or was it based on circumstance?
D.N.: Honestly, my father finished law school, an year earlier than professor Chirica, and also my sister finished law school, so I have family in the legal field. During high school, I could not see myself doing anything else. I graduated a profile of mathematics, having eleven hours of mathematics every week. Most of my class mates oriented towards math, physics and so on. I was the only one who knew that I wasn’t going to pursue a career in this field. I thought that law school is promising, especially after some of my teachers noticed my good memory and suggested to follow this path. So I said: ‘Let’s give it a try!’. I can’t say that there was a deciding moment for my decision.
Lawyr.it: How would you describe the current situation of Romanian Criminal Law, from both a teacher’s and practitioner’s perspective?
D.N.: As a teacher, I notice that many students act childish. A reason for this observation might be the growing age gap between me and my students, keeping in mind that I get older every year and gather experience, while the generations change. Moreover, many of them have deficiencies that clearly have their origins in school. Education is poorly funded. Teachers, up to high school, are not motivated enough, so obviously the only valuable teachers that remain in the system are the ones that do it with passion. My mother was a high school teacher and she just retired. I had a class mate in high school that was constantly participating at the mathematics national contests and she now is a high school teacher, but these examples are very rare. As a result, the general level of preparation is low among students. Adding to this problem, I notice a lack of effort and labor consciousness. Plus, students have exaggerated expectations. During college, grades are pumped for the statistics. Unfortunately, it is an application of the principle ‘everybody is doing it, so why can’t we?’, just like the Cranberries album.
After graduation, no one else cares, and the student is no longer ‘covered in fluff’. Students have to see that in order to succeed, you need to invest a lot of effort, especially in the first years of practice when the workload is high and the pay is low. These false expectations are a problem.
As a practitioner, I can say that there is a concerning level of disrespect between professions (judges-prosecutors-lawyers), and this is contrary to a legal system that should function normally. On the other hand, I cannot say that the general preparation level is low. Both magistrates who are instructed at the National Institute and lawyers who have to prepare for a harder exam every year, tend to be better prepared. Another problem that can be easily noticed is the great workload that magistrates have to deal with, and this makes it harder for them to focus on the human component in each case.
Lawyr.it: How do you think that Romanian legal education can be improved?
D.N. This is a difficult question. We suffer from graphomania, we write and we do not read. We should make time each day to retreat and read. I went to the library today and read for two hours, it was quiet. ‘Feels like heaven’. College is a time when all students should read like it is their full-time job, eight hours a day, each one in their own way. Teachers should also empower and encourage students somehow to read. The teaching staff should realise that the main character in the university is the student. Without him, all this rookery would be an administrative construction. There are voices that say that legal education should focus more on the practical component, but this does not mean that we should teach students how to draft different procedural documents. We should be more involved in the life of the institution of Law School and be faithful to it. Again, talking about the fact that the student needs to read more, he should also receive useful and valuable information sources. In the Romanian legal education, there is a book inflation, and this can easily be seen with the new Civil and Criminal Codes that entered into force.
Lawyr.it: We found out that, at this moment, you are working with professor Florin Streteanu on a new study of Criminal Law concerning The New Criminal Code. When should we expect it to come out?
D.N.: At best, the publisher will receive our work at the beginning of June, that if we manage to mobilise. We do not want to sign something done superficially. Anyway, if the student was used to professor Streteanu’s old treaty, the new study will not be the same. It will have around four hundred pages that will cover the whole general regulations from The New Criminal Code. The new study will comment the articles, with a special focus on the new provisions, so that the institutions and the possible problematic issues to be covered.
Lawyr.it: What can you tell us about the Law School Hexagon competition involving the major Law Schools in Romania and the results Cluj has at criminal Law?
D.N.: Regarding criminal Law, we won six times in the past eight years. But the students deserve all the credit. Every participant was very well prepared and all of them now are well accomplished career-wise. They were also ambitious and, what I consider of essential importance, modest. They did not consider themselves champions before actually winning. The fact that they won cannot be considered luck, on the other hand, you cannot expect to always win. There is an important difference between an exam and a competition. When taking an exam, if the student is well prepared, he usually gets a high grade. On the contrary, when taking part into a competition, no matter how well prepared the student is, his competitors can be even better prepared, so ending up last is always a possibility.
Lawyr.it: Bearing in mind that you took the responsibility of preparing the Cluj students, do you believe that there is a secret to success?
D.N.: There is no such thing, and the fact that I am responsible for their preparation does not take away their credit. My only job is to organise them and tell them how to prepare, and my experience here comes at handy. As a student, I took part in the competition for three years, and as a teacher since 2006, therefore I know what this competition implies. I tell my students not to write more than it is required at each task and try not to write less. As I said before, the students deserve all the credit.
Lawyr.it: You inspire appreciation among students, but there are also some voices that claim that you sometimes have a critical tone. Did you know this aspect and do you have a message for them?
D.N.: I admit it. I have high expectations from everyone, but especially from myself. I am not pleased that there are some aspects and goals that I am behind with, and I try to implement this mentality among students. I give my students at the end of each semester an anonymous test in which I ask them to give me feedback regarding my job as a teacher, and they did not fail to remind me that I sometimes act like a high school class master. This is why I asked them to stop me when I have these kind of outbursts. At the end of the day, if they do not read, it is their problem, and the exam will show the results. I use sarcasm as a method of encouragement, this is something I learned from my parents. When I notice spelling errors, I always suggest to invest in spelling books, and some people get offended. Therefore, my message for them is to ask me to stop when they feel I cross the line.
Lawyr.it: Can you share with us a funny experience that you encountered in practice?
D.N.: Criminal Law usually deals with man’s freedom, therefore funny is not a word that could be often used to describe situations in practice. But I do remember one event that I think could fit the requirement. I remember I was once in court and the judge was an ex colleague of mine. It was a simple case with three or four people that were already convicted of other seven thousand crimes and they were admitting everything, so no one in the court was paying attention, everyone was reading their own files. So, the judge, after asking the defendants if they admit everything, asked them to describe what happened ‘that night’. One of them started describing the events until the judge stopped him and said: ’rewind please, I can’t believe this!’. From that point on, everyone started paying attention. Basically, what this guy did was that he climbed on the exterior of this block of flats up to the third floor because he saw the window half-open. Once he entered, he noticed that the apartment was in construction so there was nothing to steal. Except the central heating system. So he tied everything to his back with ropes and went back down the window and using the exterior of the building again to get out. Needless to say that the building had stairs.
Lawyr.it: And our last question: what advice would you give to law students?
D.N.: I would advise them to follow their dream. If they chose Law School, it means they wanted something. Some want to become magistrates, some lawyers and so on. It is not easy at all, but if they get organised and put their mind to it, nothing can stop them. Despite what media sometimes claims, these exams are correct. It is true, they are complicated and scary and failures might occur. I remember one talk with a student after a Hexagon that took place in Iasi and how he worried about the following exam in August, he wanted to become a magistrate. He failed in August, but he took it again and now he is a prosecutor in Cluj. I see him all the time, he is very well prepared and friends of mine tell me he is always doing his job extremely well. It is always a pride to see such examples of students that worked hard and managed to follow their dreams.
This interview was originally published in the fifth issue of the magazine, which can be accessed here.