Bulgarian Parliament passes amendments disbanding specialised courts

Bulgaria’s MPs passed at second reading on April 14 a bill of amendments to the Judiciary Act disbanding two specialised courts and the prosecutor’s offices attached to them.

The 10-hour-long debate on the bill saw the largest opposition party, former prime minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB, defend the courts as a working mechanism and accuse the ruling majority in Parliament of “serving oligarchs” by tabling the bill.

The Specialised Criminal Court and Specialised Court of Appeal were set up in 2010 under the first Borissov administration, initially as the courts for organised crime cases.

Under a later Borissov administration, the law was changed to grant the courts jurisdiction over corruption cases involving senior elected officials and magistrates, despite opposition from within the judiciary itself.

The courts’ track record in that regard has been mixed and critics have claimed over the years that the courts served as a means to pursue GERB’s political opponents, an accusation repeated during the debate on April 14 by MPs from the ruling coalition.

All four parties in the coalition government campaigned on the promise to shut down the specialised courts and the issue ahs emerged as one of a few where the ruling coalition’s constituent parties appear to be in complete agreement.

Under the amendments passed by Parliament, ongoing investigations and court cases would be transferred to the Sofia City Court, which will once again have jurisdiction over organised crime and corruption cases, as it did prior to the creation of the specialised courts.

Sofia Court of Appeals would take over as the appellate instance from the Specialised Court of Appeal.

Judges and prosecutors from the disbanded institutions would be re-appointed to equivalent positions in other courts and prosecutor’s offices, respectively. The amendments also set a limit on the numbers that can go to a single court or prosecutor’s office.

Additionally, the amendments removed another controversial provision in the Judiciary Act, namely the one concerning promotions for former members of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC).

The provision, which allows magistrates to be appointed to one level above the position they held before joining the SJC, a practice known as “career bonuses”, has been used to discourage dissent in the SJC in the past, critics have said.

(Photo: Jason Morisson/sxc.hu)

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