Bulgaria’s Constitutional Court swore in four new judges on November 13, with Pavlina Panova, Nadezhda Djelepova, Krassimir Vlahov and Atanas Semov taking their seats in a ceremony attended by Bulgarian President Roumen Radev.
Bulgaria’s Constitutional Court has 12 sitting judges, appointed for nine-year terms, without an option for a second one. They are appointed by all three branches of government – four by Parliament, four by the president and four by the joint assembly of the judges in the Supreme Court of Cassation and the Supreme Administrative Court.
Every three years, four judges are replaced – this year, this includes one judge appointed by Parliament (Tsanka Tsankova, replaced by Vlahov), two elected by their fellow judges (Roumen Nenkov and Stefka Stoeva, replaced by Panova and Djelepova) and one appointed by the president (Keti Markova, replaced by Semov).
With the new judges taking their oaths, the next step is for the court to elect a new chairperson – traditionally, that happens every time the court’s line-up changes, even if the incumbent is not among the departing judges, as is the case of current chairperson Boris Velchev.
The ceremony went ahead despite the small cloud hanging over Semov’s appointment, with the Sofia appellate prosecutor’s office ordered last week to look into a 2013 case, when the Sofia city prosecutors declined to open a pre-trial investigation against Semov.
At that time, the prosecutors were tipped off that Semov, then a law professor at Sofia University, used his position to “pursue private business activities” and further accused him of mismanagement and signing a deal “damaging to the university.”
After ordering the Interior Ministry to look into the allegations, in 2016 prosecutors decided not to pursue the matter further by opening a formal pre-trial investigation. Following Semov’s appointment, the case was brought up in an opinion piece published in a Bulgarian weekly, prompting the new inquest by the appellate prosecutor’s office.
Asked to comment on the issue, Radev – who was accused in the same opinion piece of appointing Semov without any transparency on selection criteria or decision process – said that he was not surprised by the “attempts to revive a prosecution inquest that was long done with. This gives me reason to believe that it is politically motivated.”
The opinion piece’s author, Teodor Slavev from the Bulgarian Institute for Legal Initiatives, an NGO pushing for higher transparency and accountability in Bulgaria’s judiciary, also questioned Semov’s suitability for the job, considering that he, in the past, criticised Bulgaria’s constitution and voiced support for a constitutional assembly that would rewrite the Bulgarian constitution.
Semov is no stranger to controversy – the former deputy speaker of Parliament and one-time presidential candidate has a history of making bombastic pronouncements, such as his “promise” when running for president to “fire” Prime Minister Boiko Borissov (he later was briefly legal adviser to Borissov).
In 2015, he also made headlines when his nomination for a EU Court of Justice advocate-general position had to be withdrawn after a negative appraisal by a consultative committee, which cited his insufficient legal experience at the highest level, according to reports at the time.
(President Roumen Radev at the oath ceremony on November 13. Photo: president.bg)