The Independent BG Judiciary’s Getting More Dependent!
The Bulgarian MP has always been aware of everything and for this reason he haunts some kind of hyper reality, in which it is difficult to distinguish the real from the illusion. The reality is that Bulgaria has been a member of the EU and the Council of Europe for respectively 13 and 28 years.
These two circumstances finally require our National Assembly "thinkers" to realize that our country is directly linked to European institutions and is expected to play by "their" rules. And put an end to living in an imaginary world where everyone can do whatever they like.
Last week, in particular on January 23, the Parliament finally voted in favor of the changes to the Judiciary Act (JA), regulating the members of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) to receive a career and financial bonus.
Despite strong objections from the professional community and the non-governmental sector, the National Assembly adopted the amendments to the law without any debate. There was nearly no one to take part in the debate since half of the MPs were absent.
With the new changes, SJC members completing their mandates will be able to benefit from an extra - to be appointed to a position higher than what they held before being elected to the Council. Thus, in practice, SJC members will bypass the competitive beginning when taking positions in the judicial system. This competitive start is one of the most important guarantees for magistrates’ independence. And while lawmakers are tightening their grip on the legislative and the executive powers(in line with the views of the new Attorney General), the Council of Europe continues to strongly criticize Bulgaria for putting the independence of judges at serious risk.
On January 17 this year the group of countries against corruption (Greco) in the Council of Europe has published its second report on how its recommendations for Bulgaria are being implemented with regard to "prevention of corruption of MPs, judges and prosecutors". In it GRECO considers 7 of the 19 recommendations to our country that have not been fulfilled since the first report published in 2017. Bulgaria has coped with four recommendations at its “resit” but the other three remain in the "partially fulfilled" column to this day (the recommendations themselves were made in 2015).
Among the unfulfilled tasks, set for us by the anti-corruption organization the most important is the number of quotas from the National Assembly to the SJC Judicial College. Art. 30, para. 2 of the JA states: "The college of judges of the Supreme Judicial Council is composed of 14 members and includes the presidents of the Supreme Court of Cassation and of the Supreme Administrative Court, six members directly elected by the judges, and six members elected by the National Assembly."
As is clear from the law, the parliament elects the same number of members of the panel of judges as is applied to magistrates - six each. Greco calls for this to be changed by providing a majority of judges in the SJC who are selected from the quota of their colleagues. This will reaffirm the trust and legitimacy of the SJC and strengthen its role as a guarantor of the independence of judges. Instead, the quotas of the National Assembly and the magistrates remain fully equal, which leaves room for undue political influence on the judges’ careers.
In the other two recommendations which have not been implemented for five years, GRECO advises to reduce the five-year deadline for acquiring the status of irremovability of magistrates and the bonuses should be determined by clear and transparent criteria. In this line of thought, the new bonuses in the SJC appear to be clearer: the legislators ensure bonuses, the magistrates respond with "more focused" work ...Here’s your independence.
We cannot help but ask a logical question: are the new amendments to the law on the judiciary really important and significant for society or are "loopholes" that can only bring personal benefits being opened up again? There's nothing to be fooled about - anyone down-to-earth would enjoy the bonuses – either career or financial. However, before taking advantage of them, we need to think about more pressing questions - such as the independence of judges, for example, which can only weaken with the entry into force of the aforementioned changes to the law.
The significant corrections that had to be made to the law on the Judicial System Act were clearly indicated by the Council of Europe and clearly ignored in Bulgaria. Today's lawmakers do not want to hear about supranational institutions and their views on independence in the judiciary. They also pretend to not see the Transparency Without Borders rankings, which for a consecutive year ranked us first in corruption in Europe. The aspirations of our governors lead us straight to an "obsolete" world, chained in ever-altering laws and dependencies that bring our country back to a time with a hint of totalitarianism.