Bulgaria’s SJC fails to elect new high court chief

Buglaria’s Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) failed to elect, on September 25, the new head of the Supreme Court of Cassation (SCC), the final court of appeal in the Bulgarian judiciary.

Neither candidate, Tanya Raikovska and Pavlina Panova, received the needed number of votes – Raikovska received 15 and Panova got nine, with 17 votes required to secure appointment. The SJC will have to hold a new competition to designate a successor for incumbent Lazar Gruev, whose term expires at the end of November.

Some reports in Bulgaria claimed that an inconclusive vote on September 25 was a likely outcome because a postponement would allow SJC members to take stock of the changed political landscape following October 5 early parliamentary elections and pick a candidate favoured by the new ruling majority.

The two candidates are currently deputy heads of the SCC – Raikovska chairs the court’s college that deals with commercial law and Panova is in charge of the college that hears penal cases. Both are said to have impeccable reputations among their colleagues, with neither nomination drawing any objection on professional or personal grounds, unlike several other candidates whose names have been put forth for senior roles in the judiciary in recent years.

Instead, the controversy concerning the appointment has been caused mainly by the voting procedure. Under existing rules, the SJC has to vote “yes” or “no” on the candidates in the order their nominations have been submitted, rather than a direct choice between the nominees put forth.

This electronic voting system has come under fire following the appointment of Sotir Tsatsarov as Prosecutor-General in December 2012. Tsatsarov was heavily favoured and his nomination was voted on first, with the SJC not even holding a vote on the other two nominations.

At the time, the European Commission said that the best outcome was if appointments to key posts in the Bulgarian judiciary were made in the most transparent way possible, but the procedure failed to avoid controversy.

Ahead of the election of the new SCC chief, Bulgarian judicial NGOs have asked the SJC to use ballots instead of its electronic voting system in order to avoid similar criticism, with reports in Bulgarian media claiming that the EC made a similar suggestion, but the SJC disregarded the calls.

(Photo: Jason Morisson/sxc.hu)



The Sofia Globe staff

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