Twenty-five judges added their voices on December 11 to the demand issued by 15 judges a day before for the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) to dismiss the leadership of Sofia City Court – while the same day in Parliament, a governing coalition partner called for all-party support for a demand for the SJC itself to resign.
The calls came amid growing controversy over the system for distributing among judges cases of significant public interest, with allegations of manipulation of the system.
Last week, French ambassador Xavier Lapeyre de Cabanes, in a television interview, cast doubt on the workings of the system, highlighting the handling of a case involving bankruptcy proceedings against Bulgarian subsidiaries of a French company. The ambassador spoke of “rotten apples” in the judicial system in Bulgaria.
On December 10, in a letter to the SJC, 15 Sofia City Court judges asked the council to dismiss court president Vladimira Yaneva and Bogdana Zhelyavska and Petya Kruncheva, saying that they had no confidence in the court’s leadership and that the court’s reputation was at risk of irreparable harm.
Judge Roumyana Chenalova, who presided in the case of the subsidiaries of the French company, is under investigation by the ethics committee of the SJC. Chenalova denies wrongdoing.
On December 6, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov and Justice Minister Hristo Ivanov made a public appeal to the SJC to take urgent and transparent action to dispel all about the reliability of the system for distributing cases to judges.
In a joint statement, Borissov and Ivanov said, “the executive authority is obliged to take a political decision whether to propose amendments to the acting legislation, in order for real independence of the judicial power to be assured, along with fair justice.
“At the same time the legislative authority has to judge its responsibility for the actual state of the management of the judicial authority, because it selects half of the members of the Supreme Judicial Council and can hold them responsible.
“The case shows a long-year refusal of all authorities to solve urgent issues with the systems of justice and has a serious impact on the country’s investment climate, on our relations with major international partners and also – on public expectations and the reaction of strong civic discontent and mistrust towards the judiciary. It all reflects on our dialogue with the EC and the EU member-states within the monitoring mechanism in the area of justice and home affairs,” Borissov and Ivanov said.
On December 11, the call from the Sofia City Court judges was joined by 25 Sofia District Court judges, who – in a letter made available to the media – said that the authority of ordinary magistrates could be protected only through efficient control and immediate action against excesses and neglect of problems that had arisen in the running of the judicial system.
Making direct reference to the most recent case of alleged shortcomings in the running of the case distribution system, the letter said that the reaction of various institutions had shown that “we are facing not an isolated event but a systemic problem”.
The judges said that the problem was a consequence of the inaction of the SJC. They demanded a thorough review of the management of the Sofia City Court.
The SJC said on December 11 that it had started an investigation into the Sofia City Court management and had called court president Yaneva to a hearing on December 17.
In the National Assembly on December 11, Radan Kanev, co-leader of the parliamentary group of the Reformist Bloc, minority partner in the centre-right coalition cabinet, called on all other parties in Parliament to support a call for the resignation of the entire SJC.
Kanev called especially for the resignation of the members of the SJC appointed from the quota allocated to Parliament.
Should be appeal not be heeded, “we should take the necessary actions with the consequent legal consequences,” Kanev said.
A Reformist Bloc statement read out by Kanev noted the demand a day earlier by the judges at the Sofia City Court, which the statement described as the largest court in Bulgaria with the largest workload and the most responsibilities.
The statement noted that the call had been for the dismissal of judges whose names were most frequently mentioned in public in connection with the problem of distribution of cases to judges.
In the letter, the judges had directly alleged “the presence of vicious practices and processes, which have become a byword for the judicial system,” the Reformist Bloc declaration in Parliament said.
On December 10, US charge d’affaires in Sofia Bruce Berton told an International Anti-Corruption Day event that “Unfortunately in Bulgaria I fear it (corruption) has reached a crisis level that affects each and every one of us in some way. What is needed next is the political will, not to mention professional capacity, to make these initiatives and reforms happen.”
A corruption evaluation report by the Centre for the Study of Democracy, released on December 11, said that in 2014, corruption deals had reached a 15-year high.
Most businesses did not trust public institutions and did not believe that they would receive fair treatment in court, and instead relied on corruption to solve problems.
Increasing administrative and political corruption in 2014 took place against the background of an ongoing inability by the Supreme Judicial Council to face to the challenge to ensure that the prosecution authorities and the courts will tackle successfully corruption and state capture.
The structure of the judicial system still does not ensure a fast, fair and transparent enforcement of laws, according to the report’s findings, as quoted by BTA.
Bulgaria, along with Romania, has been subject to a Co-operation and Verification Mechanism since joining the European Union in 2007, a mechanism intended to bring the two countries up to the bloc’s standards in law enforcement and the judiciary.
There have been several public indications, including from Bulgaria’s deputy prime minister in charge of European affairs Meglena Kouneva, that the next scheduled CVM report on Bulgaria should be expected to be extremely critical.
(Photo: Jason Morrison/sxc.hu)