site.btaUPDATED Discussion on Draft Constitutional Amendments Held in Sofia
Judicial reform cannot be done without the holders of judicial power, said Bulgarian Judges Association (BJA) Chair Tatyana Zhilova on Tuesday at the opening of a discussion dedicated to the Judiciary-related draft changes in the Constitution. The event was organised by the Bulgarian Institute for Legal Initiatives in partnership with the BJA, the Association of Prosecutors in Bulgaria (APB) and the Chamber of Investigators in Bulgaria.
Prosecutors want an upward and sustainable development of the Judiciary, said APB chair Vladimir Nikolov during the discussion. Instead of dealing with the substantive issues, everything is being personified around the figure of the prosecutor general, he said. “We want a Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) that embodies the unity of the Judiciary and is a guarantor of its independence,” he added.
In his opinion, the balance in the composition of the SJC should not be radically changed. Nikolov pointed out that currently this has been done, and with the new changes this could raise questions. There will be an imbalance in the new SJC, and this is not in anyone's interest, he said.
According to Desislava Popkoleva from the BJA, the current body of the SJC should be kept with two chambers but with limited powers of the Plenum. Regarding the parliamentary quota in the Judges Chamber, it should be maintained, but a compensatory mechanism should be sought.
The BJA agrees that the presidents of the two supreme courts should be elected by the Chamber of Judges, but that it should remain within the powers of the President to appoint them by decree. This is a guarantee for a transparent election, according to Popkoleva. The BJA has different opinions on the role of the Inspectorate with the SJC.
The BJA supports the introduction of the individual constitutional complaint but with some reservations. This right should be granted only in extremely limited cases, said Popkoleva.
Acting Prosecutor General Borislav Sarafov, a change is clearly needed. The prosecution service shows clearly its imperfections, demonstrating them to the entire society. The SJC has shown that it has powers and ways to purify itself, he noted. Deconstructing and dissolving the prosecution service will be to the detriment of the Judiciary and society, he argued.
Lately, it has been fashionable to blame the prosecuting magistracy. Ten years ago, there was a period where the court was blamed for everything, and that did not lead to justice, Sarafov recalled. According to him, the balance has shifted towards protecting the defendant’s rather than the victim’s rights.
Someone should have the right to order checks into all prosecutors so that they do not abuse their rights or perform their duties. Otherwise, there will be cases of local feudalism, Sarafov warned.
Justice Minister Atanas Slavov said: “We cannot possibly miss the recommendations that international experts make regarding the Judiciary. The train is not passing by: it is coming towards us.”
“We have enough cases in different countries that turn the standards for the Judiciary’s independence into a common European achievement. We cannot not implement such standards. One of them is the majority of judges in the SJC Judges Chamber.
Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Affairs Chairman Radomir Cholakov (GERB-UDF) said that the bigger part of the bill on constitutional amendments was drafted by experts of Continue the Change – Democratic Bulgaria. It is good that revising the Constitution is a slow and difficult process; that will prevent hasty actions and allow broad discussions until maximum agreement is achieved, Cholakov noted.
According to the Union of Jurists in Bulgaria, the proposed amendments to the Constitution should be withdrawn, because they contradict the Constitution and are unprofessionally drafted. Union member Vladislav Slavov said that a judicial reform has been conducted for 30 years already. In the last years, there have been five constitutional revisions, four of which on the Judiciary. “Clearly, these have not produced results, given that we are talking about that again. We are being offered a bill with unknown authors. No renown legal experts have participated in this project and that is why there are so many contradictions,” he argued. Slavov proposed the formation of a commission of legal experts that would draft a concept on the change needed.
According to the BJA, some of the proposed revisions to the Constitution cannot be passed by a regular National Assembly. The draft amendments on the Supreme Judicial Council set up two bodies, which again requires a decision by a Grand National Assembly.