Bulgaria’s Constitutional Court ruled on February 8 that the Justice Minister can ask the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) to sack the sitting prosecutor-general or the heads of the country’s two high courts, the Supreme Court of Cassation and the Supreme Administrative Court.
The caretaker Cabinet in office at the time asked the court for a mandatory interpretation of the constitution in August 2021, after the SJC decided that the request by caretaker Justice Minister Yanaki Stoilov to dismiss Prosecutor-General Ivan Geshev was inadmissible.
At the time, Stoilov claimed that Geshev had repeatedly breached the magistrates ethical code and brought the judiciary into disrepute, breaking the law by making contents of wire-taps public and abused his powers in ordering the search of the Presidential building in 2020.
In its ruling on February 8, the Constitutional Court said that the justice minister traditionally has been given powers concerning the judiciary, being the only member of the Council of Ministers other than the prime minister to have their status outlined in the constitution
The prosecutor-general and the heads of the two high courts were the three highest offices in the Bulgarian judiciary and members of the SJC ex officio, meaning that any wrongdoing by the holders of the office “could seriously damage trust in the judiciary and its reputation.”
The high office meant that the holders were not subject to the same disciplinary proceedings as other magistrates, but trust in the judiciary and its reputation were “constitutionally important values” that have to be defended, the court said.
A ministerial request for dismissing the holder of a high judicial office did not bind the SJC to approve, thus it did not infringe on the independence of the judiciary, the court said.
The Constitutional Court’s 10 judges – there is currently one vacancy and Stoilov, who was appointed to the court in October, did not take part in the proceedings – were unanimous in their decision.
Incumbent Justice Minister Nadezhda Yordanova has repeatedly said in recent weeks that she planned to submit a new request to the SJC to dismiss Geshev.
Geshev, who is just two years into his seven-year terms, has proven a controversial appointment from the start. Demands for his resignation were made repeatedly during the 2020 anti-government protests and the current four-way ruling coalition has made his ousting one of its stated goals.
The current SJC’s track record – both in appointing Geshev and decisions taken since then – makes the likelihood of Geshev’s dismissal unlikely.
However, its terms expires in October and a new line-up could take a different stance on Geshev’s position if a new pro-judiciary reform majority emerges in the next SJC.
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)
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