International Experts: Bulgarian Interior Minister Erodes Justice System Credibility

Politics » BULGARIA IN EU | May 16, 2011, Monday // 14:00
Bulgaria: International Experts: Bulgarian Interior Minister Erodes Justice System Credibility Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov has eroded the credibility of the justice system in the country throgh his constant media attacks, international experts say. Photo by BGNES.

Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov unfoundedly erodes the already low public confidence in the country's justice system, concludes a report of the European Association of Judges (EAJ).

The document was distributed Monday by the Union of Judges in Bulgaria (UJB).

In end-January, an EAJ fact-finding mission arrived on a three-day visit to Bulgaria to check allegations of improper pressure and unwarranted interference with the work of Bulgarian courts.

The inspection was requested by the Union of Judges in Bulgaria over the endless attacks and accusations against the justice system coming from Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov.

According to the newly published EAJ report on the matter, unrealistic expectations about severe sentences, combined with repeated questioning of the judges' competence on the part of the Interior Minister, endanger the the independence of the justice system and seriously violate rule of law.

"Tsvetanov's public statements, through which he raises expectations about tough penalties, exert enormous pressure over judges," the authors of the analysis believe.

EAJ officials also remind of the widely publicized operations against organized crime in Bulgaria, which were followed by warnings of Minister Tsvetanov that "the court must not allow the work of the police to go to waste and sentence the suspects to long years of imprisonment". Later on, many of the detainees were released over insufficient evidence, which was followed by angry comments on the part of Tsvetanov.

According to EAJ'S account of the situation, Tsvetanov's accusations come against a backdrop of low-quality police investigations. At the same time, Bulgaria's Interior Minister does not tolerate criticism of his subordinate investigating officers, although the shared opinion of local legal experts, contacted by the EAJ, is that their work is below the permissible standards.

The document also reminds that criticisms about the makeup of the Supreme Judicial Council (VSS) and about the opaque appointment and promotion processes within the system have already been voiced by non-governmental organizations, the Council of Europe's Venice Commission and the EU. The EAJ representatives stress that it is inadmissible for investigators and prosecutors to have a say in decisions on the careers of judges, as it is in the Bulgarian VSS.

"Although we support intentions of the Bulgarian Minister of Justice to strengthen VSS's role, we would also like to emphasize the need to improve the quality and the transparency of the work of this unit", the EJA statement reads, urging the entity "to be ready to defend rule of law in public, including the independence of the justice system in its entirety and its separate members".

"The UJB has been very active in its defense of the independence of the legal system, addressing the government about any detected shortcomings of the justice process", the report states.

The experts highly appreciate efforts of the UJB, once again stressing the dissenting opinion of the Bulgarian Interior Minister on the matter. In their words, the Bulgarian government often neglects views expressed by the legal entity.

Encouraging wider publicity for the EAJ visit, the specialists say they see no reason to take further steps like draw up an EAJ Resolution or write a letter to the Council of Europe.

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Tags: Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Interior Minister, justice system, confidence, Supreme Judicial Council, European Association of Judges, Union of Judges in Bulgaria, organized crime
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