Bulgaria Scraps EU-Backed Direct Judicial Council Vote

Domestic | June 7, 2012, Thursday // 15:29|  views

The headquarters of the Supreme Judicial Council (VSS) in Sofia, photo by Sofia Photo Agency

Bulgaria's Parliament passed conclusively amendments to the Judiciary Act on Thursday, disregarding the repeated calls of the European Commission for introducing a direct vote for members of the Supreme Judicial Council (VSS).

The Parliament voted on the legal changes triggered by pressure from the EC, the magistrate community and numerous non-governmental organizations.

The EC repeatedly insisted on a direct vote of VSS members in a number of letters to Justice Minister Diana Kovacheva, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and others, stating that the election principle "one vote – one magistrate" would guarantee the onset of an all-out reform of the judiciary that would start at the VSS.

Bulgarian MPs approved on Thursday that the election of VSS members from the judges' quota and the prosecutors' quota is to take place at separate delegate meetings, with one delegate representing five people.

The direct vote for VSS members was rejected on the grounds of "a lack of technical capacity".

The newly passed amendments also provide for a so-called "career bonus" for VSS members, meaning that they will be promoted to a higher rank after the end of their five-year terms in office.

Current VSS members will also be eligible for a "career bonus."

The proposal was opposed by Lyuben Kornezov from the left-wing Coalition for Bulgaria and Hristo Biserov from the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) party.

Condemning the proposal, Kornezov suggested that MPs, Ministers and even constitutional judges should also get "career bonuses".

He went on to say that being a VSS member was an administrative job rather than a job at a law-enforcement body, adding that these 4-5-year terms in office resulted in a deterioration of magistrates' professional qualities.

To illustrate his point, he cited a letter from 11 NGOs stating their arguments against the "career bonus" amendment.

The proponents of the "career bonus" provision, Yuliana Koleva from center-right ruling party GERB and Mihail Mikov from the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) highlighted that the step offered stability and career development opportunities to VSS members.

The defenders of the idea argued that magistrates would otherwise be discouraged from spending terms in office at the VSS.

"There is also another option – to only appoint people in pre-retirement age at VSS. In this case, there will be no sense in promoting them. The proposal, however, allows people who have guarantees for career development in the judiciary to enter VSS," Mikov stated.

Hristo Biserov, however, argued that this was not a solution to the problem because it meant that the VSS members would skip an attestation procedure for nine years.

At present, the Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council, the self-governing body of the judicial system, is elected by delegates representing all judges and prosecutors working in the judicial system.

The latest legal changes are said to provide for greater representation, with each delegate representing five judges or prosecutors instead of ten, as was the case earlier.

The latest amendments also introduce a more thorough procedure for the election of VSS members from the parliamentary quota.

In the fall of 2012, the Bulgarian Parliament is to elect 11 members of the VSS, while the judiciary is to elect another 11 VSS members.

The new Supreme Judicial Council will have to make key choices by electing Bulgaria's new Chief Prosecutor (current Chief Prosecutor Boris Velchev's seven-year term is set to expire), the Director of the National Investigation Service, the head of the Supreme Court of Cassassion, as well as a large number of judges and prosecutors.

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Tags: Supreme Judicial Council, European Commission, Lyuben Kornezov, Coalition for Bulgaria, Bulgarian Socialist Party, Mihail Mikov, GERB, magistrates, Judiciary Act, judicial reform


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