The Bulgarian Judges Association, headed by Kalin Kalpakchiev – who presided over the Sofia Court of Appeals proceedings that granted Australian murder convict Jock Palfreeman parole – has called on the judicial college of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) to resign over their criticism of the handling of the Palfreeman case.
In a statement on September 25 responding to the position taken the day before by the SJC, the Bulgarian Judges Association accused the SJC of failing to protect the independence of the judiciary.
The SJC statement, which announced that the handling of the Palfreeman parole appeal was to be scrutinised by the SJC Inspectorate, endorsed the view of the family of the murder victim that the appeal court’s ruling violated the balance between law and justice.
The Bulgarian Judges Association statement was signed by its leadership, with the exception of Kalpakchiev.
The association said that not only had the SJC judicial college failed to fulfil its legal obligation to secure and uphold judicial independence, it had also joined in the unprecedented political and public pressure on the appeal court judges who had ruled on the conditional early release of Palfreeman.
“With the ‘SJC Judicial College Position’ published on September 24 regarding the ‘signal’ received from a political parties and statements by representatives of other political parties, the academic community, citizens and media reports, you not only do not fulfill this basic obligation, but you join in the unprecedented political and public pressure on a particular court and the judiciary as a whole, which is unceremoniously exploiting the tragedy of a Bulgarian family for different reasons and for different purposes.
“In this way, you are destroying the basic foundations of the rule of law – the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.”
On September 24, Bulgaria’s Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov petitioned the Supreme Court of Cassation to review the Court of Appeal of Sofia’s proceedings in the Palfreeman parole case, and asked that the release of Palfreeman be suspended.
Palfreeman was released from Sofia Central Prison last week, but was immediately transferred to the Busmantsi temporary detention centre because he lacked official identification documents. Palfreeman’s Australian passport has expired and the issuing of a new one is pending.
Speaking in a television interview on the morning of September 25, Roumyana Arnaudova, spokesperson for the Prosecutor’s Office, said that Palfreeman would be able to leave Bulgaria once he had his passport.
Referring to Tsatsarov’s application to the Supreme Court of Cassation, she said that the law did not set a deadline for the court to hand down a ruling.
Arnaudova said that if the proceedings were re-opened and if the ruling by the Court of Appeals in Sofia was overturned, there would be a reason to return Palfreeman to prison. If by that stage he was abroad, international legal aid institutions would be used to return the individual to Bulgaria to serve his sentence.
Speaking to reporters in Parliament on the morning of September 25, Bulgaria’s Justice Minister Danail Kirilov said that he had no information that Palfreeman’s passport was ready.
The parole ruling in favour of Palfreeman, who has always protested his innocence of the murder of student Andrei Monov, has caused widespread outrage in Bulgaria and has drawn condemnation across the political spectrum.
The basis for the Prosecutor-General’s application to the Supreme Court of Cassation and the SJC decision for its Inspectorate to review the case includes allegations of procedural irregularities in the proceedings of the Court of Appeals in Sofia.
There have been public protests in Sofia over the Palfreeman parole ruling, and a further protest is planned for the evening of September 26.
(Photo: Chris Potter)