Bulgarian head of state President Roumen Radev began on June 5 a series of hitherto-unannounced meetings with senior figures in the country’s judiciary, in what a media statement billed as discussions on the continuation of judicial reform.
The fact of the first meeting, with the head of the Supreme Administrative Court, Georgi Kolev, became known only after it took place, in a 6pm statement by the President’s office.
On June 6, Radev was to meet with the head of the Supreme Court of Cassation, Lozan Panov, a notice on the President’s diary said. The meeting was taking place at Radev’s request.
The President’s office said that the purpose of the meeting with Panov was to discuss the interaction between the authorities in the country in view of the latest developments in the judicial system as well as possible constitutional changes related to the functioning of the Republic of Bulgaria as a rule of law state.
On May 15, Panev made a public appeal to Radev to form a special commission to investigate what the Bulgarian-language media indulges itself in calling “Tzum-gate”.
This refers to a conversation between Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov and business person Sasho Donchev in the office of wealthy Plovdiv business person and long-time Bulgarian Socialist Party strongman in that city, Georgi Gergov. Bulgaria’s media, which tends to have next to no understanding of the Watergate affair, is fond if attaching the “gate” suffix to whatever is the scandal du jour.
At the time (of “Tzum-gate”, not Watergate), Radev responded to Panov by saying that the President of Bulgaria was not an investigating magistrate and the formation of such an investigation commission would be in breach of the country’s constitution.
It emerged that the highlights of the Monday talks between Radev and Kolev were co-operation and interaction between state bodies in the course of judicial reform, guaranteeing access to effective justice for citizens and legal entities.
The meeting with the head of the Supreme Administrative Court is the first of a number of planned meetings of the head of state with representatives of the judiciary and the executive on topics related to the reform of justice, the Presidency said.
Like its northern neighbour Romania, when it joined the European Union in January 2007, Bulgaria was placed under a Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), a system involving the European Commission in seeking to bring the two countries up to the standards of the EU in justice and home affairs.
Between 2007 and 2017, Bulgaria has had eight governments – five elected and three caretaker. The regular CVM reports, whatever their pronouncements on “political will” to carry out judicial reform, consistently have come up with lengthy recommendations to actually achieve this reform. A number of these recommendations have had to be repeated over the years.
As noted by Bulgarian-language website Mediapool on June 5, the last time that Radev spoke on the topic of judicial reform was during the autumn 2016 election campaign in which he was backed by the Bulgarian Socialist Party, and he then stuck to the party line, which was against the constitutional amendments proposed by former justice minister Hristo Ivanov.
Ivanov, who was in the second Borissov cabinet from the quota of then-minority partner the Reformist Bloc, stepped down as justice minister in December 2015 out of frustration at the form of the constitutional amendments, billed as furthering judicial reform, that the then-governing coalition chose to back.
Ivanov went on to form his own pro-judicial reform party, which failed to win seats in the National Assembly in Bulgaria’s early parliamentary elections in March 2017.
Keen observers of the workings of the judicial system in Bulgaria see the Supreme Judicial Council as divided between a majority faction loyal to Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov, and a minority faction.
The Radev – Kolev meeting on June 5 came after a weekend in which prosecutors elected three representatives to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC).
According to the Judiciary System Act, the SJC is a permanent body, which represents the judicial branch and secures its independence, determines its personnel and the work organisation of the judicial system, and manages its activities without interfering with the independence of its bodies.
The SJC consists of 25 members, required to be “legal experts with high professional and moral qualities”, with at least 15 years of judicial experience.
Of this members’ college, members by law include the chairperson of the Supreme Court of Cassation, the chairperson of the Supreme Administration Court, and the Prosecutor-General. They are appointed by an Act of the President of the Republic.
Eleven of the SJC are elected by the National Assembly, and the other 11 members by the bodies withing the judicial system. The term of office of the elective members of the SJC is five years and they cannot be re-elected for two consecutive terms of office./IBNA