Bulgarian MPs passed at second reading on July 26 a second package of amendments to the country’s Judiciary Act, part of the judiciary reform process that started after the constitutional amendments passed last year.
The bill passed with 106 votes in favour, 14 opposed and nine abstentions during a special session of Parliament, called in order to ensure that the amendments are adopted before the House adjourns for its summer recess at the end of the week.
The earlier bill of amendments, which Parliament passed at second reading in March, implemented the key provisions from the constitutional amendments, such as the separation of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) into separate colleges overseeing courts and the prosecutor’s office.
The provisions in the second package of amendments are meant to improve court self-governance, reducing the powers of the administrative heads of individual courts, as well as increasing the accountability and decentralisation of the prosecutor’s office. It also includes provisions on the additional powers granted to the SJC inspectorate, the body that can investigate and sanction magistrates.
It is seen as reducing the powers of the prosecutor-general – although critics say that the change is too incremental and not far-reaching enough – and is meant to give judges a bigger say in the process of appointing the heads of courts, which is currently entirely at the discretion of the SJC.
Some of the provisions in the bill, those dealing with the self-governance of courts in particular, prompted sharp criticism from the current line-up of the SJC, which has been reluctant to endorse the recent judiciary reform efforts. After discussing the amendments at a meeting in June, the SJC surprisingly voted to reject the bill in its entirety.
The reason for the SJC’s opposition, some observers pointed out, is the fact that the new amendments give judges a stronger voice in the appointment process of court chiefs. Previously, the council could completely ignore such opinions when making appointments.
The House also rejected a controversial amendment, tabled between the two readings, that envisioned that members of the SJC would be automatically promoted to a higher rank after their terms on the council expired.