Public row erupts after reshuffle in Bulgaria’s top judiciary body
The decision by Bulgaria’s Supreme Judiciary Council (SJC) to appoint a new representative has re-ignited a public row that has raised questions about the judiciary body’s independence from political influence.
Dimitar Ouzounov was elected representative of the council – a position that makes him the public face of the SJC and requires him to chair the council’s meetings when the Justice Minister is absent – on January 20. The manner of the change was partially the reason for the furore, as the item was added to the agenda without prior notice and came, according to some media reports, after some of the council’s members met to discuss the issue without notifying their colleagues in the SJC.
In the past, the council has been the target of criticism for lack of transparency on senior judiciary appointments, with some critics saying that a majority bloc exists and makes all appointments, disregarding any internal dissent.
Ouzounov, who replaces Sonya Naidenova as SJC representative, has also been at the centre of the recent controversy regarding a text message that prompted Prime Minister Boiko Borissov to drop in on the council’s meeting last week.
Former justice minister Hristo Ivanov, who resigned on December 9 2015 after a curtailed version of the constitutional amendments aimed at judiciary reform were approved by Parliament, accused Ouzounov of being the author of the SMS that caused a flustered Borissov to interrupt the council’s meeting.
Speaking on the breakfast TV show of Bulgarian National Television on January 21, Ouzounov denied the allegation, offering to make public his phone records to disprove Ivanov’s claims.
Borissov, meanwhile, has reacted to say that the SJC’s move to appoint Ouzounov was a “provocation that aims to artificially maintain tension between [state] institutions” and once again denied that he interfered in the work of the SJC, as claimed by his critics.
(Dimitar Ouzounov screengrab from Bulgarian National Television.)