Bulgarian Parliament passes Judiciary Act amendments at second reading

Written by on March 31, 2016 in Bulgaria - Comments Off on Bulgarian Parliament passes Judiciary Act amendments at second reading

Bulgarian MPs passed at second reading on March 31 amendments to the country’s Judiciary Act, which reflect the changes in the constitution, adopted last year as part of the government’s judiciary reform initiative.

The amendments implement one of the key provisions of the constitutional changes, namely the separation of the Supreme Judiciary Council (SJC) into two separate colleges that will oversee the courts and the prosecutor’s office. The bill also requires all appointment and dismissal decision by the SJC to use open voting and remove the option for SJC members to abstain from voting.

The requirement that the council switches to open votes was the most hotly debated on the House floor, with the two largest opposition parties, the socialists and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms accusing the governing coalition of trying to reduce the independence of the SJC.

The counter-argument put forth by MPs from the parliamentary majority was that the open voting would increase the transparency of the council’s decisions, which is also one of the routine recommendations in the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism reports on judiciary reform, published by the European Commission.

The other major topic of debate was the amendment tabled between the two readings that proposed an increase in the salaries of SJC members. According to Danail Kirilov, head of Parliament’s legal affairs committee, the increase was not as drastic as some media reports suggested and would bring it in line with the salaries of constitutional court judges.

Although the exact figure was not discussed, the specialist judiciary news website Legalworld.bg said that its calculation indicated the SJC members’ salaries would rise to about 6900 leva (about 3500 euro). This would put SJC members’ salaries above those of the president of the country, the speaker of Parliament and constitutional court judges, the report said.

The amendment, put forth by the Patriotic Front, one of the junior partners in the ruling coalition, passed with 81 votes in favour and 11 against, while 18 abstained.

The second reading of the bill missed the March 22 deadline set in the constitutional amendments, which gave a three-month period for the implementation of the changes, a detail that was not discussed on the House floor. The same implementation guidelines give the SJC one month to allocate its current Parliament-elected members to the two new colleges. In case the council fails to do so, it would be up to the National Assembly to make the decisions.

(Photo: parliament.bg)

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