Bulgaria: The Judicial Reform will Sink if the Cabinet Collapses

Politics | June 13, 2022, Monday // 10:28
Bulgaria: Bulgaria: The Judicial Reform will Sink if the Cabinet Collapses Justice Minister Nadezhda Yordanova (right) and Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev (left)

Judicial reform, a topic created by the ruling coalition half a year ago, is likely to be the biggest victim of its collapse. It (despite public arguments) is one of the reasons for the most serious shock in power. A change in the configuration of government (in this Parliament or after early elections) will at least delay even urgent or delayed changes, without which the patterns of dependence and influence in the judiciary will continue.

For one of the major goals of the current government - changing the anti-corruption commission to an effective structure - a bill was introduced only after the government was left with only three parties.

Five days after Slavi Trifonov announced that his "There Is Such a People" party is leaving the coalition, finding a majority to pass laws related to even urgent changes in the system now seems impossible. The result - the judicial council, whose resignation was demanded by the ruling coalition, will extend its term at least until next year, and judicial inspectors - who expired two years ago - will remain in office, the Constitutional Court will not be filled as parliament did not elect two members from its quota.

The request to strengthen the control over the powers and supervision over the Prosecutor General remains unmoved - a topic on which a working group at the Ministry of Justice prepared a bill, which according to Justice Minister Nadezhda Yordanova was to be submitted by the end of June.

And the day after it became known that the coalition is already threefold, a draft of a new law on the anti-corruption commission was quickly submitted to parliament, work on which "We Continue the Change" points to the coalition's problems as a symbol. There is now a proposal for change, but the likelihood that they will find support in parliament seems minimal.

With the resignation of the government and a new cabinet or new elections, all investigations initiated against the model of the previous government will probably remain stagnant - such as that of the Ministry of Interior for the construction of the Hemus highway.

Thus, requests for radical judicial reform are postponed unclear for when. With a new government in this parliament or in the next elections, not only is the format of government unknown but there will be two bodies that exist on the edge of the law and for which nothing can be done because of a missing parliament.

In the coming days, it will be clear whether "We Continue the Change" and its partners - "Democratic Bulgaria" and the Bulgarian Socialist Party - will be able to save this government and find some formula of support in parliament, as well as whether negotiating the survival of the tripartite coalition will not limit reforms and changes in the judiciary and the security sector.

The most difficult reforms

“We Continue the Change” accused “There Is Such a People” of sabotaging the reform efforts and that it was not a constructive partner, and according to unofficial information, the work of the coalition has been accompanied by constant agreements in the back on the distribution of positions in the judiciary.

It is important to point out that the lack of action on the issue of the Judicial Council Inspectorate, for example, is because a qualified majority of ⅔ of the deputies is needed to elect members and a Chief Judicial Inspector (amendment adopted with the amendments to the Constitution in 2015), which the coalition does not have in this parliament.

The Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), also known as the judiciary government, is the only way for those in power to keep their firm promise of replacing the Prosecutor General. Such was their idea - to change the composition of the personnel body in order to break the majority of the current composition, which is loyal to Ivan Geshev (this was seen from several attempts to start a procedure for his removal).

The term of the SJC expires in early October. Half of its members are elected by the judiciary (the procedure has already begun) and the other half by a qualified majority in parliament.

There will be no time for a procedure within this National Assembly, if the government falls and there is no other cabinet in this parliament, the only possibility is to partially replace the composition with the election of representatives from the professional quota (judges, prosecutors and investigators).

If, after an early vote, a new government is formed, the first opportunity to elect members of the Judicial Council, the Inspectorate and members of the Constitutional Court does not appear until early 2023.

This means that the current full or partial replacement of the SJC, which has been criticized and discredited, will continue to rule for almost half a year. The resignation of its members has been demanded several times, and the coalition agreement states that the Judicial Council must be transformed from a permanent one to one that meets in sessions. The deadline for this reform was four months.

As fast as possible, whatever depends on us. Nothing stops us except the time frames set in the legal process. In other words, there is no lack of desire”, said Prime Minister Kiril Petkov.

The ruling party had given themselves two months from the start of the National Assembly to start a procedure for electing members of the expired SJC inspectorate and submitting candidacies.

At least support for an anti-corruption law

After all requests for quick, urgent and much-needed judicial reform, against the background of the disintegration of the coalition, "We Continue the Change" announced three priorities around which they will seek support (according to Lena Borislavova) update of the budget, changes in the energy law and the "unleashing" of judicial reform, which currently looks like the election of a new chairman of the anti-corruption commission, and the passing of the ruling party's bill to split the Commission for Combating Corruption and Confiscation of Illegally Acquired Property.

Tensions between former coalition partners "We Continue the Change" and "There Is Such a People" are very acute and there are unlikely to be votes even for electing a chairman of the anti-corruption commission before its reform (“We Continue the Change” and their favorite Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov's and the favorite of “Vazrazhdane” investigator Boyko Atanasov).

The only success of the government's management program in this area is the closure of specialized courts and prosecutors' offices. Due to the fact that the composition of the Constitutional Court is not filled by the parliament, this reform may be revoked. The case pending at the request of Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev to cancel the closure of these institutions is pending before the court.

They must cease to exist at the end of July after the law stipulates that they come into force three months after their publication in a state newspaper. Due to the case in the Constitutional Court, the process of reappointment of magistrates has been suspended.

The Constitutional Court must have 12 members - one third elected by parliament, one third by the president and one third by the plenum of the Supreme Administrative and Cassation Court. A simple majority is needed to elect from parliament's quota, but no procedure has ever been launched. Grozdan Iliev's term expired on March 1, and another member of the parliamentary quota, Anastas Anastasov, left the court in November. The term of office of constitutional judges is nine years. So at the moment, there are 10 members out of 12.

To sit, the law requires a quorum of 8 judges. Decisions are taken by a majority of 7 judges. Hypothetically, this means that the work of the institution may be blocked.

According to information from the “SEGA” newspaper, the parties in the coalition have failed to find out which candidates to send to the Constitutional Court, and "There Is Such a People" have insisted on Iva Miteva.

Judicial reform in its radical form for the fight against corruption, especially at the highest levels, is not only possible but can take place in a very short time”, said on December 14 2021, Minister of Justice Nadezhda Yordanova.

The composition of the Judicial Inspectorate has recently been renewed - Chairwoman Teodora Tochkova and 11 members whose terms expired two years ago (they were elected in 2015). The members refused to leave on the grounds that they could not behead the institution. The question of whether they can hold these positions after the end of their term was raised by the Supreme Administrative Court with a request for interpretation by the Constitutional Court.

"Answering the interpretative questions is essential for the exercise of constitutional functions and the exercise of the powers of the Inspectorate of the SJC, for upholding the principles of democracy and the rule of law, the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary," write in their request the supreme judges.

What else is written in the coalition agreement

Among the government's first tasks set out in the coalition agreement were the closure of specialized justice, the separation and reform of the Anti-Corruption Commission and the transformation of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC). The deadlines for them were immediate, and the longest deadline for their implementation is three months. Other highlights in the management program include changes to the Public Procurement Act and increased control over the work of the Prosecutor General.

The ruling party wanted to analyze and change the legislative majority in decision-making by the SJC plenum; review of the majority required for the election and removal of the chairmen of the SCC and SAC in order to implement the recommendations of the Venice Commission to increase the weight of the votes of the panel of judges in the election of the SCC and SAC chairmen, additionally;

According to the agreement, there should be parliamentary control (accountability or hearing) on ​​anti-corruption issues over the activities of the SJC Inspectorate before the newly established anti-corruption parliamentary commission and before the National Assembly. As well as the introduction of an initial check for integrity and lack of conflict of interest of the candidates for appointment to the SJC and its commissions, which is carried out by the Inspectorate to the SJC.

/Lora Fileva, Dnevnik

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