Bulgarian President Roumen Radev said on October 4 that he would not sign the decree appointing Georgi Cholakov as head of the Supreme Administrative Court.
Speaking to reporters at Sofia Airport before leaving for a state visit to Poland, Radev said that he was exercising his right to send the nomination back to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC).
“It is a matter of principle. I returned the nomination today to the new SJC, which carries new legitimacy. I expect its nomination, in line with all legal procedures and the society’s moral expectations,” Radev said, as quoted by public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio.
Cholakov was elected to head the SAC, one of Bulgaria’s two high courts, whose chiefs are ex officio member of the SJC, on September 11 – just weeks before the term of the council’s previous line-up expired. The new line-up took office on October 3.
At the time, critics said that this was an attempt by the incumbent SAC chief, Georgi Kolev, who is to leave office in November, to handpick a successor. Kolev was seen as one of the mainstays of the majority block in the now-departed line-up of the SJC – made up mostly by Parliament’s appointees and members elected by prosecutors – that were opposed by the smaller and more reform-minded group made up of members elected by judges.
The critics also said that the previous council, whose term was ridden by numerous controversies, should not have been filling one of the highest positions in the judiciary.
Lozan Panov, head of the Supreme Court of Cassation, also criticised the timing of the election in the summer months, saying that there had been no substantial debate within the SAC itself and that the court’s judges had no opportunity to hear the candidates’ ideas for the future development of the court.
Some media reports have also claimed that some SAC judges, speaking off the record, complained that the current SAC leadership under Kolev pressured judges to speak out in support of Cholakov.
In his brief remarks on October 4, Radev did not go into further details on the reasoning for his decision, nor was there a statement on the presidency website on this issue, but he had previously said that it would have been appropriate for the new council to make the appointment.
The new council will hold its first regular meeting on October 5, but the proposed agenda for the meeting did not include an item on Cholakov’s nomination. Comments made by the new SJC members to the media after the oath ceremony on October 3 showed that there was some disagreement within the council, with some members in favour of restarting the procedure from scratch, while others advocated a re-vote of the two nominees from the previous process.
(The Palace of Justice in Sofia. Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)