Bulgaria's Justice Min Lashes Out at Judicial Watchdog over Rejected Legal Changes

Politics | June 13, 2016, Monday // 19:16|  views

The entrance of the Supreme Judicial Council's headquarters in central Sofia, Bulgaria. File photo, BGNES

The Supreme Judicial Council (VSS) of Bulgaria has tarnished its country's reputation by turning down key amendments to legislation concerning the management of courts and the prosecution, Justice Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva has said.

She has told public broadcaster BNT that the move might put a brake on the ongoing judicial reform, which has been one of the top priorities of the current government since it came into office in November 2014.

Last week the VSS rejected the changes without providing any arguments, with Supreme Administrative Court head (and VSS member) Georgi Kolev earlier criticizing some of the points in the draft.

The development was followed by an urge from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) which declared Bulgaria had to pass the changes to move foward in democratic development.

Monitoring applied on Bulgaria's judiciary by the EU Commission may have to go on for ten years more or even longer if the judicial body continues to resist the changes, Zaharieva argued on Monday.

She called on the VSS to provide an outline of its remarks with regard to the reform proposal.

The package rejected by the council, which regardless of the move is going to Parliament's floor for a vote, takes away some of the competences of court heads, giving them to judges, and changes procedures for the election of VSS members.

It also includes a procedure that allows for the Chief Prosecutor (currently Sotir Tsatsarov) to be subjected to parliamentary scrutiny and attend Q&A sessions before full Parliament. Another key change consists in the removal of a text reading that the Chief Prosecutor, considered a figure of overreaching influence in Bulgaria, is the ultimate chief of all prosecutors.

The ongoing judicial reform has been presented as a way to make the system more democratic and efficient, giving way to fair trials, including in high-profile cases.

Critics accuse the government of seeking a political purge and appointing its own favourites to the judiciary.

Separately, a team of EU Commission-appointed experts is preparing to visit Bulgaria and conduct an analysis of the prosecuting authority. The members were initially set to arrive at the end of May, but that was postponed to give more time to clarify technical details. 

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Tags: Supreme Judicial Council, VSS, PACE, Ekaterina Zaharieva, Sotir Tsatsarov


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