Bulgarian President Roumen Radev said on February 12 that he vetoed parts of the most recent bill to amend the Penal Procedure Code, passed by the National Assembly earlier this month.
In his motives, Radev said that he was vetoing part of the final and transitional provisions of the bill, which included a rider amending the Judiciary Act to provide for the continued operation of the country’s Supreme Judicial Council (SJC).
Constitutional amendments passed at the end of last year – which Radev is challenging at the Constitutional Court – split the council into two separate bodies, overseeing the prosecutor’s office and the judiciary, respectively, while also curtailing some of the powers of the prosecutor-general.
The rider passed by MPs on February 1 specified that the current SJC and the prosecutor-general would continue to exercise the powers they had prior to the constitutional changes until those new bodies take office.
Radev said that this, in effect, put a regular law above the constitution and breached the principle of the rule of law.
Additionally, the head of state argued that the provision was passed in breach of parliamentary guidelines, which preclude including riders in between readings that go outside the scope of the bill as initially tabled, as was the case in this instance.
Speaking later in the day after Radev’s veto announcement, Justice Minister Atanas Slavov described the head of state’s move as “expected”, as quoted by public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio.
Slavov appeared to argue that the “small change” passed by MPs was necessary for the current prosecutor and judges colleges of the SJC to be able to discharge their duties in full before the new bodies envisioned in the constitutional changes are appointed.
Separately, Radev said that he vetoed the provisions in the main body of the Penal Procedure Code amendments bill, which limits the information provided to a person put under arrest.
The bill said that such information could only include evidence serving as the grounds for detaining the person in question, rather than the full extent of evidence gathered against that person.
Radev said that this change was against EU rules on the rights of persons suspected or accused in criminal proceedings, as set out in Directive 2012/13/EU.
(Bulgaria is already subject to an EU infringement proceeding for failing to correctly implement this directive, with the European Commission escalating the case to the second stage by sending a reasoned opinion in September 2023.)
Bulgaria’s constitution grants the head of state a limited power of veto, through enabling the President to return legislation to the National Assembly for further discussion.
The National Assembly may overturn the President’s veto through a simple majority vote or accept the veto and review the vetoed clauses. Since taking office in January 2017, Radev made liberal use of the power and this was his 35th vetoed bill.
The National Assembly overturned the veto on all but five occasions – four times that the veto was accepted by MPs, including twice last year, and one instance where the government coalition at the time failed to muster the support needed to overturn it.
(Roumen Radev photo: president.bg)
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