PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW CRIMINAL PROCEDURE CODE ON FIRST READING
A lot of them support it, only few like it - this is how the members of the new Parliament accept the draft of a brand new Criminal Procedure Code adopted on first reading on August 25. The draft was supported by 185 members of the Parliament. The only parliamentary group that did not vote in its favour was the Democrats for Strong Bulgaria. One member of the United Democratic Forces (UDF) voted against it, too, and two MPs abstained.The draft is palliative and smoke-screen behind which we're trying to show the EU that we are doing something, Ivan Kostov explained the vote of the group. It was during his ruling's mandate that Bulgaria had problems with the EU because of the intentions of the then ruling majority to place the enforcement of defendants' bail under prosecutors' control. In the spring of 2001 the group of UDF put forward draft amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code, according to which the investigation service should be closed down as a structure. The proposal was withdrawn in the last minute due to Ivan Kostov's personal order.Two days earlier, the draft prepared by a team of the former minister of justice Anton Stankov and approved by the cabinet of Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was unanimously voted by the interim parliamentary committee on legal affairs. Experts from the European Commission are expected to arrive on August 30 and inspect whether the reform of the pre-trial proceedings in Bulgaria has begun. Everything would be fine if Brussels' monitoring reports took into account draft bills adopted on first reading. However, as it is well known, the European commissioners only acknowledge regulations published by the Official Gazette.Debates during the first discussion of the project in the plenary hall suggest that its final adoption will not be an easy task. At least for the present the draft is only liked by those who moved it forward. It was also firmly supported by the new Minister of Justice and former head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Georgi Petkanov and the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Boyko Kotsev. According to Minister Petkanov, the new Criminal Procedure Code will be a good ground for the establishment of European-style criminal police which will substitute the currently operating investigators and criminal police inspectors in the investigation of criminal trials. Another merit of the draft, Petkanov says, is the clear distinction between the rights of criminal police inspectors in the Ministry of Internal Affairs and investigators (who are part of the judicial power). As the BANKER weekly wrote, if the text proposed by the National Movement Simeon II (NMSII) passes on second reading, 97% of the committed crimes will be investigated by officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Georgi Petkanov confirmed in front of the MPs his position that the new code should introduce a monitoring prosecutor who would control the course of investigation from the moment the case is initiated until the indictment enters the court. Other advantages of the draft, the Justice Minister added, are the ban for transformation of initiated criminal police inspection into investigation, the expansion of the range of crimes for which prosecution and defence are allowed to reach an agreement, as well as the establishment of a special fund that will compensate the victims or the relatives of victims who suffered from the crime.As it was expected, among the most furious critics of the new code were investigators and prosecutors. According to the Deputy Director of the National Investigation Service, Roumen Andreev, investigating officers as a whole support the idea for reforming the pre-trial procedure according to the European model, but oppose the actual liquidation of an operating structure. According to information from the Justice Ministry, there are 1,068 investigating and 902 administrative officers working in the system of investigation now. If the new Criminal Procedure Code is voted in the way it was put forward, these nearly 2,000 people will lose their jobs.In turn, the Supreme Prosecutors' Office of Cassation did not like the idea for obligatory introduction of a monitoring prosecutor. As Hristo Manchev, Deputy of the Prosecutor General said, senior prosecutors monitor the work of the investigating officers even now, but it is technically impossible to appoint a monitoring prosecutor for every single case. Nikola Filchev's deputy cited figures, according to which 1,086 prosecutors take part in over 15,000 investigations and more than 100,000 inspections.Dimitar Abadjiev, MP from the Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB), again launched his party's proposal to remove the prosecution from the judiciary and transfer it to the executive power. DSB members find it more logical that first the National Assembly adopts amendments to the Constitution in its part concerning the judicial power and then discussions about a new Criminal Procedure Code are held. That view is also shared by the Chairman of the interim parliamentary committee on legal affairs, the MP from the Coalition for Bulgaria Yanaki Stoilov and by his colleague from the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) Tatyana Doncheva. According to Stoilov, however, discussions of the code before any possible constitutional amendments are predetermined by the commitments Bulgaria has taken to the European Union and the expiring deadlines for their implementation. In turn, Tatyana Doncheva said that good or bad, the draft still gave an answer to the long standing question about whether or not the investigation service should be closed down. The MP opposed the obligatory introduction of a monitoring prosecutor in criminal trials. During the second reading of the draft in the plenary hall her fellow party members will propose texts that will restrict the possibility for appealing against bail imposed in the pre-trial phase. Legal experts from the left wing are also planning to propose including a deadline in the Criminal Procedure Code until which a criminal trial may be extended (including the pre-trial and the court phase), regardless of its suspension or termination.