Bulgaria’s Constitutional Court has overturned an amendment approved by Parliament in September 2015 to the Penal Code that removed the statute of limitations for the prosecution of crimes committed by senior functionaries of the Bulgarian Communist Party between 1944 and 1989.
The Constitutional Court voted 11 to one to overturn the amendment, with Judge Philip Dimitrov dissenting.
In December 2015, Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov said that he was challenging the amendments in the Constitutional Court because they violated basic constitutional principles.
Any legal provision that a crime other than a crime against peace and humanity would not be bound by a statute of limitations was unconstitutional, Tsatsarov said at the time.
He cited Article 31 of the constitution, which contains the provisions that “anyone charged with a crime shall be brought before a court within the time established by law” and “there shall be no limitation to the prosecution and the execution of a sentence for crimes against peace and humanity”.
According to Tsatsarov, the legislature could increase the time limit in a statute of limitations, but could not remove it.
The Prosecutor-General also argued that the legislation was in conflict with article 4 of the constitution, on the rule of law.
This, he said, requires the legislature to be consistent and predictable and to prevent the creation of mutually contradictory legislation.
Providing for discontinued cases to be resumed threatened the credibility of Bulgarian law and the stability of the legal system in the country, according to Tsatsarov.
Tsatsarov also pointed to what he called mutually exclusive provisions in a single act of legislation, which was “clearly contradictory to the rule of law”.
He said that the persons to whom the law removing the statute of limitations would apply were not clearly defined. First, he said, it was not clear who was described in the clause referring to members of the governing bodies of the Bulgarian Communist Party, as well as third parties entrusted with the functions of senior officials or the party.
In the September 2015 vote in Parliament, which has a total of 240 members, the amendment to the Penal Code drew 111 votes in favour, 30 against and there were seven abstentions.
The stated purpose of the amendments, tabled by Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB and the Reformist Bloc, was to enable at least some of those responsible for torture and killings in the labour camps as well as the forcible renaming of Bulgarian Turks (the so-called “Revival Process” in the late communist era in Bulgaria) to face court.
Lawyers had suggested that the vote by Parliament would be unenforceable because the amendments to the Penal Code contradicted other provisions within the same law, including that for the prosecution of a crime, that crime should be as defined in the law at the time it was committed, and that if different laws were applicable, the one most favourable for the accused should be applied.
(Photo: (c) Clive Leviev-Sawyer)