Bulgaria’s cabinet has adopted an updated strategy for reforming the judiciary.
The strategy was tabled at a cabinet meeting on December 17 2014 by Hristo Ivanov, Justice Minister in the centre-right government that took office in early November. Ivanov held the same portfolio in the August-November caretaker cabinet.
Adoption of the strategy comes amid renewed public and political furore around Bulgaria’s judiciary, with recent controversies having included an investigation having established shortcomings in the system meant to “randomly” allocate cases to judges.
The state of Bulgaria’s court system has been subject to continuous criticism for decades, although various governments have made some efforts at reforms, to limited degrees of success.
Bulgaria continues to be subject to a Co-operation and Verification Mechanism put in place regarding both it and its northern neighbour Romania when the two joined the European Union in January 2007. The mechanism is intended to bring the two up to the bloc’s standards in the judiciary and in law enforcement.
A new report on Bulgaria under the CVM is due in early 2015 and is expected to contain sharply critical notes.
Meglena Kouneva, Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the co-ordination of European policies and institutional issues, told a post-cabinet news conference that the reforms in the strategy were aimed at the work of the judiciary.
Kouneva said that the strategy identified strategic goals and specific steps to implement them. She said that an analysis of the positives, negatives, opportunities and threats and measures were detailed in the development roadmap, which has performance indicators and identifies which institutions would be responsible for implementation of measures.
Ivanov has given assurances that the Justice Ministry is working actively on a package of legislation to implement the reforms.
The ambition is for this to be presented in the first months of 2015.
Kouneva said that plans were to brief the leaders of all parliamentary groups in the National Assembly on the proposals and to ask for all-party support.
Bulgarian-language media said that it was likely that the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the largest opposition party in Parliament (albeit with less than half the seats of the largest party, GERB, the centre-right majority partner in the cabinet), would support the judicial reform strategy.
This, according to BSP MP Maya Manolova, was because the strategy had been developed by three governments – the March 2013 caretaker cabinet, the subsequent BSP government and the current government (in fact, there have been four governments, but as noted, Ivanov has held the justice portfolio both in the August 2014 caretaker administration and the current cabinet).
Among the proposals in the strategy is the division of the Supreme Judicial Council into two colleges, one for judges and one for prosecutors and investigators, as well as the introduction of direct election of members of the council instead of the current system of appointments through assemblies of delegates from institutions related to the judiciary and by Parliament.
The Supreme Judicial Council has 25 members, including the president of the Supreme Court of Cassation, the president of the Supreme Administrative Court and the Prosecutor-General, all three ex officio. Eleven members are elected by bodies representing elements of the judiciary and the other 11 are elected by the National Assembly.
(Varna court building, photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)