site.btaUPDATED Justice Minister: Draft Constitutional Amendments Are in Right Direction
Speaking in Parliament, Justice Minister Atanas Slavov said the draft revisions to the Constitution, which were adopted on first reading on Friday, were a step in the right direction. The point is that two independent councils are set up - of judges and of prosecutors, he said.
"This is a debate on the country's future, on whether we want to live in a European country governed by the rule of law, in which everyone will be included and his dignity and rights will be respected," Slavov said. The discussion in the Constitutional Affairs Committee was prudent and involved all stakeholders, he added.
Slavov said: "If I were an MP, I would have signed the proposed bill."
"One of the proposals, which I believe will be consensual, is to stipulate that the judiciary is independent and the prosecution and the investigative bodies are part of the judicial system," Slavov said. In his view, a consensus will also be reached on the proposal that the heads of the two councils should be elected for a seven-year term and the prosecutor general's term should be reduced to five years from seven years now.
Responding to criticisms, Slavov cited the Venice Commission which said in an opinion on the draft amendments that the proposed composition of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) is in line with its previous recommendations. The Venice Commission said the most important point is that "the plenary of the SJC is abolished, and two independent councils are created, one for judges and one for prosecutors and investigators". As a result, the justice minister will not preside over the SJC Plenum and the Plenum will not nominate candidates for presidents of the Supreme Administrative Court and the Supreme Court of Cassation and for prosecutor general.
Based on the draft amendments, eight of the SJC 15 members would be elected directly by judges in the regional, district, appellate and supreme courts, five members would be elected by the National Assembly, and the presidents of the two supreme courts would be members by right. The SJC would be chaired by the president of the Supreme Court of Cassation and, in his or her absence, by the president of the Supreme Administrative Court.
It is important that the SJC members elected by Parliament should be politically neutral, besides being professionals, the Justice Minister said.
Slavov also expects Parliament to reach a consensus on reducing the powers of the prosecutor general, but he will still play a substantial role in the prosecution service. A consensus is likely to be reached on the prosecutor general's powers to challenge the constitutionality of acts and resolutions of Parliament and of presidential decrees before the Constitutional Court and to ask it to declare political parties unconstitutional.
The justice minister's powers are also reduced by the draft amendments. Unlike now, he will not be able to make career proposals for judges, prosecutors and investigators.
The executive will not be allowed to influence in any way the judges, prosecutors and investigators, the minister said, referring to the management of the judiciary's properties.