Several days after Bulgaria’s Parliament held the hearings for the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) candidates nominated by MPs, the country’s judges elected the first six members of the body after intense deliberation that saw the emergence of rival camps among magistrates.
The union of Bulgarian judges, an organisation that has been very critical of the outgoing SJC and the Government’s attempts to influence the council’s proceedings, was opposed during the numerous procedural votes by supporters of several top judges, who are more inclined to collaborate with the Cabinet on matters concerning the judiciary, media reports said.
Among the six judges elected to serve on the next council, only one – Kalin Kalpakchiev from Sofia Court of Appeals – is known for his outspoken criticism of the current council’s controversial decisions: the election of Vesselin Pengezov as head of the Sofia appellate court and Vladimira Yaneva as head of the Sofia city court (both have been criticised by some observers as insufficiently prepared for their new jobs and worse choices than some of their rival candidates), as well as the SJC’s decision to fire the head of judges union Miroslava Todorova, another outspoken critic of the council and Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov.
The other five judges elected to sit on the next Supreme Judicial Council are Kamen Ivanov from Sofia Administrative Court, Yulia Kovacheva from the Supreme Administrative Court, Milka Itova from Sofia City Court, Daniela Kostova from Varna District Court and Galya Georgieva from the Plovdiv Court of Appeals. All five have been described as candidates close to top magistrates willing to accommodate the Government on judicial matters.
Much of the first day of voting, on September 15, was spent debating voting procedures; in the end, representatives of judiciary NGOs and members of the media were allowed to watch the proceedings, but only from a distance, so as not to interfere. The point was crucial because of reports in previous days that some judges feared possible vote-rigging at the meeting.
Procedural debates were followed by hearings of the 18 nominees and voting did not start until late in the evening – Ivanov was the only candidate to win an outright majority from the delegates, the other were elected in subsequent run-offs. Voting and vote-counting went on well into the night and the final results were only announced on September 16 in the morning.
The SJC is made of 25 members; the Justice Minister in office has the right, although not the obligation, to chair the meetings, but is not formally a member. The chief prosecutor and the chairpersons of the Supreme Court of Cassation and Supreme Administrative Court are SJC members ex officio; the other 22 are elected in equal proportion by Parliament and different branches of the judiciary – judges (six), prosecutors (four) and investigators (one) all elect their own representatives to the council. SJC members are elected to five-year terms and cannot hold back-to-back terms.
(Photo: Jason Morisson/sxc.hu)