Bulgarian MPs pass constitutional amendments on judicial reforms at first reading

Bulgaria’s Parliament passed at first reading on September 23 constitutional amendments on judicial reforms with 184 votes, which means the bill can be fast-tracked through the National Assembly.

Under Bulgarian law, 180 votes are needed for constitutional amendments, but should bill receive 160 votes at first reading, it can be put to vote again three months later, at which point, the required majority to pass would be 160 MPs.

Even with one of the two main opposition parties in Parliament, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), agreeing to support the amendments in exchange for some changes – which, critics say, would weaken the impact of reform – it was not certain that the bill will receive the support of 180 MPs (out of 240 in the National Assembly). The only votes against the amendments came from the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party.

With socialist splinter ABC providing just one vote in support, while eight other ABC MPs abstained, the key votes that ensured that the bill reached the three-quarters majority came from ultra-nationalist Ataka. The turn of events was surprising as Ataka is one of the current government’s harshest critics on a number of issues.

Ataka MP Yavor Notev said after the vote, as quoted by broadcaster Darik Radio, that the party remained opposed to the amendments as “lacking substance” but opted to support them because otherwise it would have only “delayed the agony” and the bill would have further cluttered Parliament’s agenda.

The key provisions of the bill is the sub-division of the Supreme Judiciary Council (SJC) into colleges of judges and prosecutors, direct election of judiciary members of the SJC, and the Inspectorate receiving powers to inspect the properties of members of the bench and to monitor conflicts of interest. However, the old quotas for arriving at the composition of the SJC, split between those from judges, prosecutors and political appointments, will remain unchanged.

Those quotas could be changed before the bill goes to the House at second reading, with the MRF and ABC insisting on redistribution of appointment quotas for the prosecutors college in the SJC. As it stands, of the 12 members of the prosecutors college, the prosecutor-general is a member ex officio, with six members to be elected by Parliament, four by the general meeting of prosecutors and one by the general meeting of investigative magistrates (which, in Bulgaria’s judicial system, have a lower standing and fewer powers than prosecutors).

(Photo: parliament.bg)



The Sofia Globe staff

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