03/23/2017 The Man behind the Black Robe Rubric with a New Guest: José Manuel Igreja Matos 

On March 17 the Bulgarian Judges Association celebrated its 20th anniversary. For two decades the Association has been uniting Bulgarian judges and supporting the core values of the judiciary, its independence and dignity. During the “Judicial Independence” conference, organized by the Association, we had an opportunity to speak with the President of the European Association of Judges (EAJ), Mr. José Igreja Matos. His presentation was focused on the EAJ role in promoting judicial independence and its current priorities, such as the fight against corruption and preserving judicial integrity. 

- Good evening, Mr Matos! Please, introduce yourself to our readers.

- Good evening! I have been a judge since 1989. Back then I was 24 years old. In my country, Portugal, judicial appointments are based on merit criteria. In order to become a judge, you pass a variety of exams – written, oral, interviews. I went to Lisbon to training school for judges for 1 year, and I spent 2 years as a trainee. After 3 years in total, I started working as a judge in a small town in northern Portugal. I continued with my career and now, since 2012, I have been a Court of Appeal judge in Porto, the second biggest town in Portugal after Lisbon. Since October 2016 I am President of the European Association of Judges (it represents 44 countries), and also a vice-president of the International Association of Judges. The latter is the biggest one and assembles the associations of judges worldwide. 

- How did you earn the trust of the professional community?

- Well, it was by election, where the vote is personal. You vote for “José Igreja Matos” or anyone else. However, to get into this kind of election and to win the election, you must be well known in the organization. This means you’ve earned the trust of your colleagues as voters. They say “I’m going to vote for this guy, because he has an interesting solution to that problem or whatsoever…” It’s rather devotion than ambition and a personal effort, yes. But at the end it is not about the persons, it’s about the institution. Our goal is to serve the institution and we try to do something for the independence and the integrity of the judiciary. It’s not about being a president or a vice-president, it’s about the work we provide to the institution. After all, it’s my leisure time and voluntary work. I still have the same workload in my court.

- Speaking about appointments and leadership within the judiciary, what are the key appointment’s criteria for you? In Bulgaria, if the SJC produces even one controversial or scandalous appointment, it reflects on the whole image of judiciary and it’s probably discouraging for the judges themselves.

- This is a very good question and it goes to the heart of the judiciary! The quality of the judiciary is defined by the appointment procedure. If you have a system of appointments that is reliable, you have the best judges in the best places. If the appointment system is not reliable, it’s not accountable, or is based not on merit, but on other criteria, at the end of the day you’ll have bad judiciary. The appointment is the cornerstone of the system. It’s very interesting that you are asking this question, because in my opinion, in many European countries, the appointments system is exactly the problem. There are several recommendations about this from the EU and mostly the Consultative Council of European Judges, which correspond to the best standards. That should be the standard of any given country, based on merit criteria, open competition, procedural transparency and a judicial remedy at the end, it’s always necessary to have some kind of scrutiny of the procedure. Of course, we can say, for instance, supreme judges should be only career judges or we can have people from academia or reputed lawyers, which I am open to. In my opinion, the most important is to have a transparent procedure and merit based criteria. I don’t see it as a problem to have people from civic society as supreme judges, and we have many examples in Europe or the U.S. and common law countries. The most important is not who, but how you chose. It’s about the procedure, about accountability, transparency, merit criteria. This is the key word - “merit”. No secrecy. If you achieve all that, at the end you have more reliable and better judiciary. 

- What is your impression of the Bulgarian judiciary and our current country situation?                               

- I can’t answer to this question based on subjectivity or irrationality, we need to take a look at the historical background. In my opinion, you are better than you think. And speaking about judiciary and only judiciary, I think you have a very strong and committed association, very strong professionals and to be honest, I think you should be more positive. Change is a path and it takes time. And the younger generations are needed in this process, because a change will never happen with old mentality or old style. The solution is always a generation ahead. 

- How do you see the role of the NGOs in this process?

- We have more to lose with the passivity of the NGOs, not with their proactivity. They are the conscience of the society. NGOs should be loud. We, as judges, must be accountable to those we serve. When I speak about transparency I use this catch-phrase shared by an American judge in the late 20s very often: sunshine is the best disinfectant.

- In your presentation you’ve mentioned some examples from Latin America. Can you tell us more about the local reality? 

- For example, I was born in Brasil and I know very well the Brazilian reality, Mexico or Central America, they are quite similar. What we have in these countries are huge social inequalities, very rich and very poor people. That’s why we have all this criminal cases, tensions in the society. The other side of the question is the way they live, they are always first in ranking of happiness and very comfortable with their body language, they are more open to life. Life there is more intense, in Europe we are somehow melancholic. 

- Do you think that judges nowadays may become role models? 

- I don’t like the idea of role models. It’s important to have to look to someone as a good example. For me, the actual change comes with education. For example, corruption. Corruption is a major issue for the Association. The amount of money that corruption withdraws from society is huge. In Europe the amount of money is equal to the wealth of a small country. In judiciary it is important to know that your house is clean. When I was working on this issue with the Council of Europe, I was in an interview with the former Italian minister of justice. She told me once “When I was a minister of justice, I started educational program in primary schools, we explained to 6- or 7-year old children that if we don’t pay taxes, the school will not have money for a new board.” It’s very difficult to change a mentality, but it’s about the small things, it’s not about changing the world. Look, to have a corrupt judge, you must have someone who enters the preposition – a lawyer, for example. And we must focus on that also, on training young lawyers. Corruption is a very good case study to understand how society works.

You know that Indian economist and philosopher Amartya Sen, and his book “The Idea of Justice”? Basically, he says that the word justice is too strong, too difficult. Do not search to define justice, because you will always refer to something so abstract and far away, which you will never reach. Instead, let’s speak about “injustice”. Even a small child, everybody, understands it. For example, if you’re in primary school and someone does something wrong, you will remember it was unfair or unjust. Injustice is sensible, it’s felt on your skin. Instead of always saying justice this or justice that, let’s start to fight injustice. Let’s do different. I think that civic society, NGOs and younger generations are the solution if there’s a solution. 

02/18/2016 The Bulgarian Parliament Elected the New 10 Inspectors of the Inspectorate with the Supreme Judicial Council

After a no debate session the Bulgarian deputees voted the new members of the Inspectorate with the Supreme Judicial Council. 19 were the nominees (one withdrew) to be chosen amongst. The Parliament elected 5 judges, 3 prosecutors and 2 investigators. The nominations of candidates for Inspector General and inspectors shall be reviewed by the specialised standing committee of the National Assembly. However, this does not guarantee that all 240 PMs will be familiar with the candidacies. Profiles, i.e. public presentations were timely presented by BILI following the TJAI methodology.   

01/29/2016 BILI Presented at the National Conference "Access to Information – an Instrument for Achieving Our Goals"

On January 29 the Access to Information Programme held a national conference "Access to Information – an Instrument for Achieving Our Goals." The event was dedicated to the amendments to the Access to Public Information Act (promulgated in the State Gazette on December 11, 2015). Products and campaigns of NGOs, driven by the use of the Access to Public Information Act, public registers and open data were introduced by various organizations. Neda Grozeva presented TJAI and, the history of the project and the methodology for comprising profiles of magistrates nominated for leadership positions in the judiciary. So far, 269 profiles are published on and 15 judges and law profesionals took part in The Man Behind the Black Robe Rubric.  

Photo credit: 

07/24/2015 More than 20 NGOs in a joint position to the Bulgarian MPs: DO NOT REPLACE THE JUDICIAL REFORM!





On May 26 there were introduced proposals for amendments in the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria unprecedentedly signed by 132 MPs. For almost two months we have witnessed a professional and reasonable debate, all points of view were timely presented. During the last two weeks the debate has vanished and replaced by spurious political language and unreasonable statements.
There is absolutely no excuse for such behavior but the frenzied desire to sustain a condition, where the judiciary will continue to hang in the air, thus becoming vulnerable, dependant and easy to control. Furthermore, the proposed new project largely repeats the current one, but surrounds some of its key substantive proposals. These efforts aim to delay the entire process of judicial reform, its irreversibility, and to block the attempts to drill the current status quo.

All this comes at a time when the society has an exceptional will to see changes in the judiciary. Bulgarian citizens are finally beginning to understand the importance of having a truly independent Court and a reliable Prosecution Office. Obviously, the ones called upon to vote the amendments in the Constitution lack such will. On the contrary, it seems to be geared more to stop any attempt to break the pattern. That makes it so fierce and centralized.

Honorable Members of the parliament, this Parliament and this government began their term with a clear request that an in depth judicial reform is an absolute and uniting priority for all! Now it is time to prove your political responsibility, your courage and consciousness by voting in support of the first bill. Tomorrow is a test day not only before your voters and the people who have given such high confidence in you. Tomorrow is the test to your own conscience, both political and civil. Do not miss to prove that change is possible and you are the chosen and worthy ones to push it through!

July 23 2015


Access to Information Programme
Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law
Bulgarian Institute for Legal Initiatives
Bulgarian School of Politics Dimitry Panitza
Balkan Assist Association
Centre for Inclusive Education
Center for Independent Living
Centre for Liberal Strategies
Christan Takoff, LL.M.
Civic Participation Forum network of 120 civic organizations
Consensus Association
European Institute
Human Rights Step by Step Association Varna
Institute for Market Economics
International Center for Minority Studies and Intercultural Relations
NGO Links
Partnership in Action Association
Public Policies Watchdog Forum
Youth Alliance Varna

07/15/2015 BILI presented the 2013 Edition of the Prosecutorial Reform Index

On July 14 BILI presented the 2013 Edition of the Prosecutorial Reform Index (EN) on a special conference, attended by representatives of the Prosecution, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Internal Affairs, magistrates, academics, NGOs and media. The Director of BILI Ms Bilyana Wegertseder believes that the Prosecution should be open to cooperation with the non-governmental sector, which is an indication of its attempt to democratization and reform.

Find the 2013 Edition Prosecutorial Reform Index in Bulgarian.

09/18/2014 President of the Supreme Court of Cassation Elected Next Thursday, September 25th

The Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) will conduct an election for a Supreme Court of Cassation President in a hearing on September 25, 2014. Two candidates were nominated for the position –Polina Panova, Supreme Court of Cassation justice and Head of the Criminal Division, and Tanya Raikovska, Supreme Court of Cassation justice and Head of the Commercial Division. Each of the two was proposed by five members of the SJC.

BILI prepared elaborate profiles of the candidates within the Transparent Judicial Appointments Initiative (TJAI) ( The profiles are available at the TJAI website, in Bulgarian. The profiles provide detailed information about the candidates’ education and qualification, professional experience, workload, cases pending, rulings confirmed or overruled, memberships in professional and other organizations, as well as other relevant data. The information has been gathered through official public sources, such as candidates’ biographies, law school diplomas, Supreme Court of Cassation yearly reports, public registers such as the Senior public officials registry, maintained by the Bulgarian National Audit Office, the Property Registry of the Registry Agency, media publications, etc.

For the particular election procedure BILI developed a special questionnaire with 8 questions which both Judge Panova and Judge Raikovska answered to. The questions focus on the role and authorities of the Supreme Court of Cassation president, the independence of judges, the law construing activity of the court and other important topics.

In the course of the procedure the SJC’s Professional Ethics Committee and the Proposals and Evaluation of Judges Committee conducted their own investigations concerning the professional and moral qualities and suitability of the candidates. Their reports were announced earlier this week after being presented at public sessions of the committees which were rather lacking initiative by the respective chairpersons and members. Both committees concluded that the nominated justices possess the required professional and moral qualities to be elected president of the Supreme Court of Cassation. On September 17, 2014 the majority of the Supreme Court of Cassation justices gathered to hear the candidates’ answers to questions concerning their vision for the Supreme Court, the work of its president, and the needs for the structural and organizational improvements in the Court’s activity.

Both candidates are respected and highly appreciated by the broader Bulgarian legal community.


02/28/2014 The Man Behind the Black Robe VII: Our First Talk with a Prosecutor within the Rubric 

At present Georgi Asenov is a prosecutor with the Pleven District Prosecution Office. He is working as a prosecutor since 1994. Previously he was working as an investigator. In 2012 he was nominated for a member of the Supreme Judicial Council from the prosecutorial quota by 12 of his colleagues. He is the first prosecutor, who takes part in the Man Behind the Black Robe Rubric. Prosecutor Asenov commented that our society is not voiceless anymore: "Transparency and access to information regarding the activities of different state authorities are no longer just wishes, but reality, which everyone must comply." Read the full interview in Bulgarian here or at ISSUU:


02/17/2014 Celebrates its Second Birthday!

“The reward of a thing well done is having done it.”
                                          Ralph Waldo Emerson

On February 17, 2012 BILI presented the official web portal of the Transparent Judicial Appointments Initiative, This would not have been possible without the trust given by the U.S. Department of State and the following support of the America for Bulgaria Foundation. For the past two years this website has grown not only because of the efforts of our team, but also thanks to the encouragement, appreciation and valuable recommendations of all involved magistrates.

If two years ago the Transparent Judicial Appointments Initiative seemed to be very innovative and even daring venture, now has proven itself as a successful example of the minimum standards of accountability and transparency in the election procedures of senior positions in the Judiciary. We believe that this is our biggest success so far.

We sincerely thank all who have helped and contributed to the realization of the project. Your support motivates us to make an even greater effort to develop in future!

*Image source here

02/04/2014 The Transparent Judicial Appointments Initiative is Pointed as the Only Good Practice in Fostering Transparency and Accountability by the European Commission in the EU Anti-corruption Report


"Events since July 2012 indicate some progress in public hearings and dismissal of tainted magistrates. However, CVM recommendations on judicial reform have not yet been taken on board fully. Citing increasing threats to judicial independence, Freedom House lowered Bulgaria’s rating for judicial framework and independence in 2012. Good practice: Role of NGOs in fostering transparency and accountability:
The Transparent Judicial Appointments Initiative by the Bulgarian Institute for Legal Initiatives (BILI) facilitates public scrutiny of recruitment and promotion in the judiciary, and promotes integrity as a key element in such decisions. Using open sources of information, it publishes ethical and professional profiles of candidates who are allowed to have input in the assessment. BILI also works with individual courts and the Supreme Judicial Council to organise public hearings. The initiative aims for more transparent and merit-based nominations of magistrates to management positions, as part of a modernised human resources policy within the judiciary, as recommended in CVM reports."
Read the full report here.


01/30/2014 The Man Behind the Black Robe VI: A Тalk with the Criminal Judge Krasimira Kostova



01/29/2014 The National Assembly Announced a New Procedure for Election of Chief Judicial Inspector

On December 18th the Committee of Legal Affairs with the National Assembly announced the opening of new election for Chief Judicial Inspector. The term for nominations was between the 19 and 27 December (including holidays). The only candidacy filed was the one of Judge Veselina Teneva, who is working at the Supreme Administrative Court. She was proposed by the deputies Maya Manolova and Chetin Kazak. The purpose of the newly accepted rules is to ensure maximum publicity and to allow the public to acquaint the candidates, said Kazak. However, the Bulgarian Judges Association has objected against the short nomination terms in a letter as of December 26: We hope that the forthcoming report of the European Commission under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism is not the sole reason that has occasioned the hasty launch of a procedure for the selection and appointment of an Inspector-General and that the Members of Parliament will indeed be able to form the necessary quorum and act in good faith to further a meaningful reform of the judiciary, regardless of the political or coalition affiliations of individual MPs. (read the full letter here).

The day after the letter was proclaimed, 7 reputable NGOs, including BILI, declared their support to the Bulgarian Judges Association appeal. The NGOs are calling the National Assembly to adopt new adequate procedural rules including setting a sufficiently long period for nominations of candidates for this very important office for the judiciary. Read the full letter in support of the Bulgarian Judges Association here.

01/22/2014 The European Commission announced the Report on the Progress in Bulgaria under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism

In 2012, the fifth year of the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), the Commission decided to produce a longer-term assessment to give a full picture of progress. This assessment was published in July 2012. This report assesses the progress made by Bulgaria in the core CVM areas of judicial reform, anti-corruption work, and the fight against organised crime. The Commission believes that the monitoring process of the CVM, the opportunities provided by EU funds and the constructive engagement of the Commission and many Member States continues to be a valuable support to reform in Bulgaria. The next formal report will come in around one year's time. You can read the full text of the report here. Below we are representing some of the accents in the conclusions of the Commission on the state of the reform in the judiciary:

"Public confidence in the Bulgarian judiciary is not high. CVM reports have pointed to ways to improve this confidence, through a professional approach to managing the system to insulating judicial appointments and decisions from political influence. Some significant steps have been taken since July 2012. The procedures for nominating senior magistrates have become more public and there has been a more sustained effort to tackle some of the management issues fac ing the judiciary, such as workload imbalances. Some serious problems have been  acknowledged  as requiring action, such as the need to protect the system for allocating cases  from manipulation. In the second half of 2013, there were no  frontal attacks from  the executive on the judiciary. Nevertheless, as also highlighted in previous reports, concerns persist about the independence of the judiciary in Bulgaria.  

In July 2012, the Commission expressed a strong hope that the future management of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) would position it as a key institution to drive progress in the reform of the judiciary. Reforms in 2012 introduced more public election procedures for the SJC. However, the conduct of the election for the SJC in autumn 2012 did not convincingly demonstrate an open contest with professional merit and integrity to the fore. The proceedings to elect the parliamentary quota, while  more open  than in the past, suggested a significant party political influence on the process. The election of  the judicial quota suffered from the decision not to allow for   direct elections by judges. This  put  much  influence in the hands of the existing court leadership, limiting the opportunities for a fresh start. The SJC has identified its priorities more clearly than in the past. It has also made efforts to open up, with more outreach and with the establishment of a Civic Council to bring advice from civil society to  the SJC, comprised of key NGOs as well as professional organisations. A vigorous civil society in this area was identified in the July 2012 report as an important step forward for Bulgaria.

However, its real influence on policy remains unclear and a clearer procedure for consulting the  Civic Council and explaining when its recommendations are no t followed  would increase the effectiveness of the Civic Council. In general, the SJC should take further steps in the direction of transparency.  The SJC has taken some steps towards managerial reform. On workload and reallocation of resources, a practical approach seems to be making  some  progress. In other areas, such as objective appraisal and promotion procedures or introducing more consistency into disciplinary proceedings, concrete steps so far are few.

The ethics committee could be expected to act as a champion of integrity, but the SJC has not positioned itself to make integrity a major priority. As such it finds it difficult to dispel continued concerns about political influence over its decision-making.  The result is that the SJC is today not widely regarded as an autonomous and independent authority able to effectively defend the judiciary's independence vis-à-vis the executive and parliamentary branches of government. The onus for defending the independence of the judiciary,  or for scrutinising  whether politically- sensitive cases are handled objectively, often seems to fall on civil society. The SJC should acknowledge this as a major priority and put in place transparent procedures for a consistent handling of issues as they arise. This also suggests  the need for  a more consistent policy towards the media.  

One of the main areas influencing public perceptions of law enforcement and justice is appointments. These have acted as a media and political focus. Concerns about important public appointm ents being decided  in an intransparent way  and involving strong economic and political interest groups was further strengthened by several high -profile appointments in the course of the past year. Concrete examples were the failed appointments to the constitutional court and the state agency for national security (SANS).


An important test case will be the upcoming nomination and election of the Chief Inspector of the Judicial In spectorate. Delays have given the impression that the key factor is an inability to agree on a candidate in advance, whilst this kind of position should  be filled following an open process designed to appoint a highly skilled professional who can show and  apply  full objectivity. The election of the President of the Supreme Court of Cassation will also be an important appointment later in 2014. An important element in the protection of judicial accountability and integrity is the disciplinary procedures applied to magistrates. This needs systematic criteria with the goal of consistency in disciplinary action."

12/27/2013 The National Assembly Announced a New Procedure for Election of Chief Judicial Inspector

On December 18th the Committee of Legal Affairs with the National Assembly announced the opening of new election for Chief Judicial Inspector. The term for nominations was between the 19 and 27 December (including holidays). The only candidacy filed was the one of Judge Veselina Teneva, who is working at the Supreme Administrative Court. She was proposed by the deputies Maya Manolova and Chetin Kazak. The purpose of the newly accepted rules is to ensure maximum publicity and to allow the public to acquaint the candidates, said Kazak. However, the Bulgarian Judges Association has objected against the short nomination terms in a letter as of December 26: We hope that the forthcoming report of the European Commission under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism is not the sole reason that has occasioned the hasty launch of a procedure for the selection and appointment of an Inspector-General and that the Members of Parliament will indeed be able to form the necessary quorum and act in good faith to further a meaningful reform of the judiciary, regardless of the political or coalition affiliations of individual MPs. (read the full letter here).

The day after the letter was proclaimed, 7 reputable NGOs, including BILI, declared their support to the Bulgarian Judges Association appeal. The NGOs are calling the National Assembly to adopt new adequate procedural rules including setting a sufficiently long period for nominations of candidates for this very important office for the judiciary. Read the full letter in support of the Bulgarian Judges Association here.

12/26/2012 The Man Behind the Black Robe Part V

In the fifth edition of the rubric "The Man Behind the Black Robe" we are having the pleasure to introduce Ms Daniella Todorova to the Bulgarian audience. She is a Bulgarian, studying law in the U.S. and her dream is to become an attorney. In this interview she is describing the whole process and method of her education at the Santa Barbara & Ventura Colleges of Law. The full interview is available in Bulgarian here and at



28/11/2013 The Man Behind the Black Robe IV: Interview with Judge Maureen Duffy Lewis, L.A. County Court

Maureen Duffy-Lewis has been sitting on the bench for 25 years in the world’s largest court – the LA Superior Court. Before that she had experience in private practice and in the District Attorney’s Office. A mother of two, she never gave up one of her passions – teaching. In 2009 judge Duffy-Lewis visited Bulgaria, where she taught a course at Sofia University, helped with the development of the Judicial Mentoring Initiative for the Bulgarian Court System, assisted in the implementation of a national mediation program, and taught Mediation and Judicial Ethics at the National Institute of Justice. She was also the first Visiting Fellow at BILI. Read the full interview in Bulgarian here.

- Judge Duffy-Lewis, how did you decide to pursue a law degree and later – become a judge?
- I came from a family of immigrants (all my grandparents came from Italy and Ireland) to the United States.  It was always obvious to me that in my family, they respected the opinion of people with an education,  especially since they came to America with little education beyond 7th grade.  In everyday life, even as a young girl, the people with a voice were usually lawyers.  I desperately wanted a voice, and for a 7 year old that was a lot to ask for... Еspecially in a family where children were seen but not heard!  I dreamed of being the "voice for the voiceless" and believe me at 7 years old I had no voice! Becoming a Judge was something that you may dream about… But really don't expect to happen.  In the United States there is a  strenuous vetting process and lawyers, and judges and members of the community can have an imput.  In California a Governor can appoint you to the Bench or you can declare and run in an election. Either way, you still are evaluated for your competency.  I had handled as a Prosecutor some very complicated murder cases and unknown to me, the Governors Office was following my cases. The Governor of California, George Dukemejian recruited me to apply for an appointment to the Bench.  I was only 36 years old and that is rather young for a judge.

You have a very rich personal and professional experience. Would you name one very important lesson that you have learned while meeting various people and doing so many things in the course of your career?
- Upon reflection it is true that my way to the Bench was rather unexpected.  I began my professional life as a TV Commercial Actress.  I was also a professional Ballet Dancer.  Dreaming of a voice I went off to college and immersed myseslf in the total college experience.  I took all the courses required for law school and was admitted.  I also became a school teacher and taught during the day while going to law school at night.  I can honestly say that everything that I learned in my teaching courses translated perfectly into my life as a trial lawyer.  The courtroom became my classroom and the jurors and the Judge became my students. I taught my position with reason, logic and respect for the listener.  The one thing I can say to the reader is I have learned that respect, fairness and transparency in life is what is needed in every courtroom.  I was 30 years old before I understood truely what the saying meant "peoples perception is their reality". It is true, it does not matter if the correct thing happens, if the outcome is not trusted or respected by the community at large.  Also, one of my favorite saying is from Miguel De Cervantes, "tell me who yor friends are and I will tell yo who you are"!  As I travel around in different communities I have found that this saying is more of a Universial Truth!

- What would you like to share with the vast society about the judicial profession? What did it take from you and what did it give you?
- The Legal Profession which includes all aspects of Justice, including Judges and Lawyers and the Court Administrators, should do their work transparently.  Trust from the community at large is absolutely required.  The public needs to trust the decisions as being unbiased.  You will note I did not say all decision are always correct! Nothing in life is perfect, but we do our best without bias towards others. The Legal system gave me my voice.  I, in return, am the voice for the voiceless. It does not mean that I personally agree with my clients every position, but I will be able to clearly and fairly give voice to him in a court of  law! 

- Do you have a personal recipe for becoming a successful lawyer and a judge?
- My personal recipe for becoming a successful lawyer and Judge is RESPECT for the community, my client or those who appear before me as a judge and complete transparency.  The Rule of Law is my Bible and I never forget that all those who appear before me have feelings and they are someones child, father and or friend.  Deal accordingly!

You have been in Bulgaria in 2009 and you are familiar with the obstacles facing the development of our judicial system. Do you find any particular differences or certain advancement nowadays?
- I am aware of the challenges of the Bulgarian Court System... But one should not forget that all court systems face challenges. When I left in 2010, I knew that change was coming to Bulgarian Courts.  Effective change does not come over night. Abiding change requires thinking and working groups to bring about the change that the community is looking for.  Justice is a universal need and every community has its requirements and expectations. The Mediation Center sponsored by the Regional and City Courts of Sofia is a fine example of positive change that is confronting a slowed case management of cases. As the first Mentor Judge of the Judicial Mentoring Initiative for the Bulgarian Court System I was honored to work with young and vibrant and hardworking Judges in Bulgaria. Together we established a working Court Mediation Program. This Program is so successful that the EU Parliament has recognized it as one of the top three programs in the EU. The Regional Court has recently finished a beautiful new Courthouse and they have dedicated 4 large offices to the Mediation Program inside the new courthouse.  The Mediation Program began with 7 mediators and now numbers over 50.  I see Progress all over the courts with the raising culture of mediation, which in turn will help to fairly end casses without the need for a trial or further court resources.

- You are also a truly devoted lecturer. How do you inspire the younger judges and the law students?
- I always look forward to speaking about justice and over coming perceived obstacles. I like to present the law in the most straight forward manner. If a judge con not understand it then how can the community understand it and rely on it?????  So I emphasize that we are here to serve others and to serve justice and that is what and who we are.  Lawyers and Judges have a higher calling because within us reposes civil society. We can not let society or our future children down.  That pretty much is my message... It is my Bible of sorts.

- If a child asks you what it is like to be a judge, how would you explain it?
- Often young students will ask me what it is like to be a Judge. I tell them that it is an honored position, that I take full responsibility for every day that I put my robe on. I remind myself that I work for them and their parents.  I often invite students into my courtroom to sit in my chair and slip on my robe. I ask them "How does this make you feel?”  they often say "powerful"… And then I remind them that with power comes great responsibility to be respectful of every human being, even the least among us.  I emphasize that we must treat everyone with respect!

- What piece of advice would you give to the young people who want to pursue a judge career?
A career in Law is special. If you want a voice and to be a voice for the voiceless then law is a great profession.  Choose your friends wisely and chart your course so that you stay focused on your dream.  Remind yourself that even though you wish to become a lawyer no one should ever strip from you of your good common sense.  Stay real and stay Practical.  Respect others opinions and always use the facts to support an argument.  

10/29/2013 BILI Officially Presented the Judicial Reform Revue 2013 for Bulgaria (Volume IV)


On a theme conference on October 29, 2013 Bulgarian Institute for Legal Initiatives (BILI) presented the 2013 Judicial Reform Review for Bulgaria. It follows the methodology of the American Bar Association, Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI). The previous issues were published in 2002, 2004, and 2006. The current fourth edition covers the period immediately after Bulgarias full EU membership and the first five years of this membership. Distinctive of this issue is the progress in three of the thirty factors covered: Judicial Qualification and Training, Judicial Conduct Complaint Process, Computers and Office Equipment.

The event, which evoked an active discussion, was honored by many magistrates, renowned jurist, non-governmental sector experts, international guests, as well as members of the Supreme Judicial Council. BILI invited all members of the Legal Affairs Committee with the National Assembly. The only one to accept the invitation was Mr. Yanaki Stoilov via his assistant, Mr. Marian Karagyozov.

BILIs Director, Mrs. Gyaurova-Wegertseder, opened the event and emphasized that this index is an objective assessment which shows what has been done well and what could be done better so that this reform, which is key to the development of this country in the last 23 years and ahead, be accomplished in depth and in a way which inspires with respect both us, the lawyers, and all members of our society and our international partners.

Deputy prime-minister and Minister of Justice Ms. Zinaida Zlatanova opened the conference. The results of the 2013 JRR were presented by Mr. Hristo Ivanov, Program Director, of BILI, followed by a commentary by the Chairperson of the Supreme Court of Cassation Prof. Lazar Gruev. Prominent representatives of the academia, former Constitutional Court justices, lawyers, and judges participated in the discussion.



09/16/2013 The Man Behind the Black Robe Part II: Talk with the Constitutional Court Judge Keti Markova

The second interview, part of “The Man Behind the Black Robe” initiative is already a fact. Our guest is judge Keti Markova. We prepared her profile according to the TJAI methodology in relation to her nomination for a judge at the Constitutional Court. Her candidacy was raised by the President Rosen Plevneliev in 2012. Judge Markova was previously working at the Supreme Court of Cassation as a penal judge. In this interview she reveals the beginning of her career in the judiciary and shares some thoughts on the development of the system through the years. Read the full interview in Bulgarian published on



08/20/2013 The Man Behind the Black Robe or Why the Judiciary Needs a Positive Attitude?

Central focus of the TJAI is establishment of the principles of objectivity and impartiality in the career development and leadership formation in the Bulgarian judicial system. This goal achievement was largely determined by the 138 judicial profiles assembled so far, including four profiles of judges becoming tenure. In particular, the institute of tenure is specific and crucial moment in the professional advancement of each magistrate. Therefore, BILI decided to focus on this significant, but often neglected as a pro forma procedure, institute. In addition to the profiles completed, BILI would like to present judges as individuals, who made the uneasy choice to decide human fates. Moreover, we are trying to answer straightforwardly questions such as: Who is the Man behind the black robe? What are his aspirations and desires? The magistrates’ profession attracts more and more law graduates each year. In the beginning of 2013, 817 and 1005 lawyers took part in the junior judges, respectively junior prosecutors’ contests, announced by the Supreme Judicial Council (most of the candidates are applying for both offices). What motivates a lawyer to prefer the exclusively responsible and simultaneously lonely judicial profession? Guided by these and other debatable issues, we decided to include a new moment into the project’s development – periodic interviews with magistrates, who have their profiles published at  

We are pleased to introduce our first interviewee, judge Lyubka Stoyanova, Deputy President of Sofia City Administrative Court. Her profile was drafted on the occasion of her impending tenure. Read the full interview in Bulgarian here:



07/03/2013 Important Elections in the Judiciary 

After the former president of Regional Court Plovdiv Sotir Tsatsarov was elected for a Prosecutor General, a series of important appointments began. His seat took the president of District Court Plovdiv Vesselin Hadjiev. Consequently, the Supreme Judicial Council announced a contest for his chair position. The contest was officially announced on May 31. There are two candidacies: Ivan Kalibatsev, President of District Court Asenovgrad, which is a relatively big district court, with 9 judges working in the institution and prosecutor Petko Minev, he is working in Plovdiv’s District Prosecution Office.  BILI prepared profiles of both candidates, following the TJAI methodology. Both of them were very responsive and gave their feedback to our team. The election is extremely important because of the significance of the particular court institution. Judge Kalibatsev already has management experience, in the legal lobbies from a long time the word that he will be appointed is spreading. On the other hand, prosecutor Minev has a strong academic profile, he graduated Law, Macroeconomics and Psychology. However, the election will be hold tomorrow, July 4. So far, there are 128 published profiles on, while 10 are under construction.

On July 4, the Supreme Judicial Council elected judge Kalibatsev to be the new Chair of District Court Plovdiv with 16 votes in his favor, 2 "against" and 4 "abstain".

06/04/2013 Issues of the Judiciary Independence in Bulgaria. View from outside.

Mr William Mayer, representative of the American Bar Association (ABA) Center for Human rights, who is one of the international observers on the case of judge Miroslava Todorova is discussing the issues of the judiciary independence and the human rights protection in Bulgaria. Mr Mayer reminds that according to the established international principles both the judiciary and the executive powers should refrain from comments on the functioning of the judiciary. This is a keystone of the rule of law in any country. Watch the full interview for the legal broadcast "Temida":


American Bar Association Center for Human Rights Official Statement on Judge Miroslava Todorova's Dismissal

At a press conference (see video below) organized by the Bulgarian Institute for Legal Initiatives today (May 15, 2013) the American Bar Association (ABA) Human rights center representative William Meyer announced the ABA official opinion on the disciplinary dismissal of judge Miroslava Todorova last July. The dismissal and the similar disciplinary practice of the Supreme Judicial Council are viewed by the American Bar Association as a serious threat to judicial independence in Bulgaria. ABA is concerned that this action of the SJC points to using its authority as a means of political retaliation for the criticism which Ms. Todorova expressed in her capacity of Chair of the Bulgarian Judges Association. The ABA statement can be accessed here ENGLISH and BULGARIAN version.







On April 26, Friday, BILI presented an independent assessment of the random case assignment systems used in the Supreme Administrative Court, Supreme Court of Cassation and Sofia City Court. The report includes not only technical descriptions and conclusions, but also concrete recommendations. Despite the limited number of visits to the respective courts and the lack of relevant information BILI made its findings and conclusions based on the observed practices. The focus of the inspections lies on the identification system risk factors and the approach towards their regulation. In this regard, one of the main recommendations is for thorough further inspections, which would uncover irregularities and abuses.

The report was presented by the program director of BILI Hristo Ivanov during a press conference held at Sofia press club. The check up was performed by BILI and independent IT expert specialist. The report will be uploaded on our webpage available in Bulgarian soon.

The Supreme Judicial Council Elected New President of Plovdiv Regional Court

Photo: BGNES Simeon Zahariev (left) and Veselin Hadjiev (right)

Today the Supreme Judicial Council is electing President of the recently vacant post of such at Plovdiv Regional Court. The present Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov was taking the office since 1999. There were two candidates competing in the procedure. Veselin Hadjiev, who is President of District Court Plovdiv and  Simeon Zahariev. Zahariev is actually working at the Regional Court, but seconded at Plovdiv Court of Appeal as of September 2011. He has also experience as a deputy President. During the election campaign BILI prepared profiles of the two candidates following the TJAI methodology. Both profiles are available in Bulgarian here. The hearings of both candidates lasted approximately four hours. Eventually, Hadjiev was elected with majority of 19 votes in his favor.

04/16/2013 Today We Celebrate the Adoption of the First Constitution of the Free Bulgarian State in 1879

Dear Colleagues,
Today we celebrate the adoption of the first Constitution of the free Bulgarian state in 1879. It is the document which proclaims the principle of separation of powers, sanctity of individuals and private property, freedom of speech, association and press, into Bulgarian political life. It lays the foundation of modern Bulgaria.

On this occasion we turn to all of you, who honestly and patiently fight for the triumph of justice and law in our country!

The inconstant history of the third Bulgarian state has proven that, although often doubted, the rule of law eventually triumphs. Therefore, let us all go on remembering – there are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.
Bulgarian Institute for Legal Initiatives


03/20/2013 Ms Bilyana Gyaurova-Wegertseder: For a year and a half, we have managed to make the first steps to initiate a change of how judges and prosecutors are elected on the leadership positions in the system:

Ms Wegertseder is discussing the obstacles and progress of the most innovative project, developed by BILI:

Ms Wegertseder, its been a year and a half since the start of the Transparent Judicial Appointments Initiative (TJAI). What are the outcomes so far?
First, I would like to say a few words about the project itself. The TJAI was launched in the summer of 2011 and we were completely aware that we might meet serious resistance both from the magistrates and the Supreme Judicial Council. The essence of the project is revolutionary, not only for Bulgaria, but for the entire region. So far no one has been preparing profiles of judges and prosecutors the way we do it, not to mention that they are uploaded on the internet, thus allowing easy access to everybody. Even adding a picture of the concrete profiled magistrate, candidate for a leading position in the judiciary, was a complete novelty. Changing a certain attitude, a mindset and a perception is always a task of great difficulty. For a year and a half, we have managed to make the first steps in that direction to initiate a change of how judges and prosecutors are elected on the leadership positions in the system. A turnover not only in the procedures, but in the attitude towards them and the way they are carried out. The period itself turned out to be full of interesting appointments and procedures. So in purely statistical and quantitative terms, we have more than 100 completed profiles, including those of the nominees for prosecutor general, judges at the Constitutional Court and the nominated for members of the Supreme Judicial Council. No less important are the completed profiles of all judges and prosecutors who have applied for Presidents of various courts in the country.

What difficulties have you faced in the realization of the project and how did you manage to cope with them?
Our biggest challenge and difficulty are to overcome the inertia, the sense of predetermined elections, and the feeling for impossibility to break the status quo. However, it turned out that if a candidate is presented objectively, in a professional and maximum transparent manner that may matter. We have faced some difficulties in the process of drafting our methodology according to which the profiles are structured. Like anything done for the first time we were breaking the ground and the only experience we could use, was a foreign one. However, the American model and that of some European countries may not be mechanically transferred to Bulgaria, and should be adequately adjusted to our conditions and procedures. The process takes time and requires special attention, because our work is related to real people and the information about them should be presented in an adequate and objective way, and paying the necessary respect to their profession and personality. We are strictly following the legal requirements for personal data operation; we do not publish data which is not checked or such that may be qualified as yellow. We are always seeking feedback from the candidates, if possible, before the publication of the concrete profile on the website.

How do magistrates perceive the overall concept of the TJAI? In a positive sense or ?
The magistrates attitude was one of our biggest concerns at the very beginning of the project. We were prepared for the worst. To our surprise, the majority of them responded positively and liked the idea of the profiles that, I will repeat it again, in an absolutely objective and transparent manner, are representing the concrete magistrate not only as a professional but also as an individual. Naturally, there were some negative reactions, which is understandable and acceptable. I am really pleased because magistrates have realized that our work on this project is not against them or against the judicial system. On the contrary, our activities within the TJAI are aiming to support every magistrate in the country, especially those applying for the leadership positions in the judiciary. I do think that the majority of judges and prosecutors as well as the SJC are really striving for the maximum transparency and predictability in their work, as this is the only way to increase the authority of the system in the eyes of the public.
One of the main elements of the project is to establish and sustain a contact with judges and prosecutors, who are subject to profiling. Successful communication is crucial at each stage of the projects implementation. In the light of this, we have developed a number of questionnaires and other forms. Most of the magistrates are sharing positive comments and highly appreciate our work. We have also received suggestions on how to improve different elements from our activity and we have taken them under consideration.

The work continues; what are the future courses of the project development?
The past year was extremely saturated with important elections in the judiciary new Supreme Judicial Council, new Prosecutor General. Head of the Inspectorate at the Supreme Judicial Council and Constitutional Court justice from the parliamentary quota are about to be elected. We are closely following these procedures and the nominees for them will be part of the profiling. I would like to stress on one thing TJAI is not a project monitoring only key elections. On the contrary, the TJAI is much more oriented towards presenting the people who are elected on the leadership positions in all courts in the country from the largest to the smallest one. Moreover, most of these 100 completed profiles are of magistrates who have applied for Presidents of different District and Regional Courts. And this is one of the most important values of the project to show ordinary citizens that there are judges in their town that are honest and reputable people who can be role models. Another direction of our work is preparation of profiles of judges who are becoming tenure. This is an extremely important topic, however, almost missing from the public discussion. Underlining its importance we would like to show that the criteria for becoming tenure should be increased as this is the last big hurdle before a magistrate becomes an absolute part of the system.

Could you make a brief overview on the development of the judicial reform in Bulgaria and the condition of the judiciary in the last two years?
It is not easy at all to summarize this topic, as in the last 23 years it has always been high on the radar of the public attention. Plenty of work has been done in Bulgaria by both local experts and the many foreign organizations which have implemented a number of projects related to the improvement of the work and organization of the processes in the judicial system. However, Bulgarian magistrates do not have self-confidence and the rating of the judiciary is amongst the lowest ones. It is logical to ask - why? Why in a system, where the professionals are among the best paid in the state and the system itself is one of the most organized, things are still stuck. We are talking about judicial reform since the beginning of the democratic processes in the country. We have decided that Bulgarias accession to the European Union has solved all the problems in the judiciary. It is by far not the case. The desire to preserve the status quo is much stronger than the desire for radical change, which will destroy it and lead to real compliance with the rules. And the problem is not just within the system. Over the years, each government has made attempts to "saddle" the judiciary and to pull the reins in the desired direction. The success of this enterprise was variable, but did create a class in the government itself, which conveniently allows to be "saddled" with no interest that this behavior casts a stain on everyone else. It is sad to hear that there are judges nowadays who are ashamed to say what their profession is and prefer to hide from society instead of stepping as its natural leaders and role models.However, over the past two years there has been a revival and desire to start a change that will not remain on the surface, but will go deeper and break the status quo. More magistrates are realizing that in order to pursue a sustainable reform, it should first happen in themselves and after that spread over the entire system. I dare to say that BILI also has a role in this reform movement, and largely due to the Transparent Judicial Appointments Initiative.

Which one of your achievements so far you can say is a major accomplishment? What else can be done in the future?
We have developed and we are implementing a project, which is of unique character, a project which opened some new work possibilities in the sphere of judicial reform and Rule of Law. I highly appreciate the trust and the opportunity given to BILI by the U.S. Department of State and I am glad that we will continue our work with the support of America for Bulgaria Foundation. During the past year we were awarded with the Golden Key prize, served by the Access to Information Program for our active work in seeking access to public information and the upholding of our right of receive it. This is a sign that we are moving in the right direction and our efforts are worthy. The best part of the project is its constant development. The specialized internet portal, where we upload profiles and additional useful information is being constantly updated and improved. New procedures and possibilities for magistrates to take part actively in the preparation of their profiles and stimulation of their active participation in the career procedures processes are about to be released. We have the ambition to create conditions for broad participation of judges and prosecutors in the discussion of a certain candidacy. We are discussing other interesting ideas that I hope will positively surprise the people who are following our work.

02/21/2013 The Profile of Judge Grozdan Iliev is Already Published

After the past events in the country, the Chair of the Legal Committee at the National Assembly filed a proposal for amendments in the procedural rules for election of a Constitutional Court justice. The preliminary hearing of Mr Grozdan Iliev before the Legal Committee is scheduled for the todays session of the Committee at 3:00 pm. The actual election in plenary will be held on February 22 Friday, instead of March 6.

However, BILI managed to communicate and publish the profile of Mr Iliev, prepared in accordance with the Transparent Judicial Appointments Initiative methodology. Forcing the election of a Constitutional Court justice blocks the possibility for NGOs to submit statements and questions to the candidate. Тhe profile of judge Grozdan Iliev is available here

Mr Grozdan Iliev is the Constitutional Court Justice Nominee of the Parliamentary Quota

Photo: Supreme Court of Cassation

February 11 was the last possible day for Constitutional Court justicesnominations by the deputies at the National Assembly. At the end of the working day three deputies, representatives of the ruling party GERB, Krassimir Tsipov, Dimitar Lazarov and Emil Radev filed the nomination of Mr Grozdan Iliev. At present he is a Deputy president and Head of the Criminal Division within the Supreme Court of Cassation. His career started in 1974 as a prosecutor in his hometown Elin Pelin. In 1989 he is elected by the National Assembly for a justice at the Military division of the Supreme Court. He continues his work at the Supreme Court of Cassation until April 242009, when he was elected for a Deputy President of the Court with 25 votes in his favor by the Supreme Judicial Council. BILI contacted Mr Iliev after his nomination was announced and presented to him a draft version of his profile. Currently, we are expecting comments, as soon as we receive them, the profile will be officially presented. 

02/05/2013 BILI Took Part in a Supreme Judicial Council Working Group

Last Friday a second meeting of the Working group with the Supreme Judicial Council which shall draw up a medium-term human resources strategy was held. Magistrates, statisticians, sociologists participated in the meeting. Presentations on different case-weighting systems and models were made by acting magistrates and NGO representatives. A member of BILIs team presented the US case-weighing model, stressing on the importance of accurate statistics and the key role of the time factor when determining case weights. Among the other presentations were one of the Spanish case-weighing model and some already being applied in Bulgarian courts methods.
The presentations were discussed in two sub-groups one of judges and one of prosecutors and investigators. Until the end of February the statistical codes of the different types of cases will be updated. Based on the statistical data will be gathered. Using the results of the models which are already in function, until the end of March questionnaires for the definition of time estimates for the processing of the different case categories (civil, criminal, administrative, commerce) will prepared. The questionnaires will be filed by all judges in the country. The aim is that the questions be accurately formulated so that the results be as precise as possible. The analyses of the results will lay the basis for the arrangement of cases in group types. More on the event on the SJC official website (available in Bulgarian)

Summary Setting Out an Appraisal of the State-of-Play of Judicial Reform and the Necessary Further Steps to Be Taken

10 Bulgarian NGOs have signed a substitute monitoring report discussing the judiciary reform issues and key appointments in the system for 2012. The participating expert NGOs are: Bulgarian Institute for Legal Initiatives, Bulgarian Judges Association - Member of IAJ, Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Bulgarian Lawyers for Human Rights, "Forum" Association, Institute for Public Environment Development, RiskMonitor, The NGOs Centre in Razgrad - National NGO Network for Civil Court Watch, The Union of Bulgarian Jurists. Read the full text of the analysis below:

Summary Setting Out an Appraisal of the State-of-Play of Judicial Reform and the Necessary Further Steps to Be Taken


In its latest report under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM[1]) published in July 2012 the European Commission finds that Bulgaria continues to lag behind in terms of the standards for justice and home affairs (JHA) applicable in other European Union Member States. In this regard, the report identifies the following key challenges:

1. Safeguards for the independence of the judiciary, including from:

  • political pressure and undue influence on the part of business and power lobbies;
  • forms of undue influence reliant on built-in administrative mechanisms;
  • low level of tolerance for conflict of interest and trading in influence.

2. Ensuring efficient justice, including through guarantees for the sound management of human resources and the budget of the judiciary and the competent and responsible work of individual magistrates and the relevant governing bodies.

The achievement of these goals requires undertaking a comprehensive reform set out in the recommendations of the European Commission and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the conclusions of the Venice Commission, a number of ECHR judgments and the reports of several international and local organisations. Such reforms are also called upon to overcome the trend towards further entrenchment of the existing status quo under the veneer of surface changes focused on procedures instead of ones that address the substance of the structural and functional problems.

In order to undertake a successful and comprehensive reform, and taking into account the nature of existing obstacles and the current state-of-play of the judiciary, the following are particularly important:

  • close co-operation with civil society organisations, which have the necessary know-how that enables them to effectively act as a sounding board that exposes and helps to overcome the challenges in justice administration;
  • media that are free from political and economic pressure and capable of ensuring an active and genuine (non-manipulative) public oversight;
  • continuing and stepping up the different forms of international monitoring as the sole mechanism of proven capacity to act as an efficient driver for reform.                                                                                                                                                                                              

II. Summary justification of the need for reform       

The history of reform of the Bulgarian judiciary is effectively a chronology of the long-standing attempts of the system to overcome its dependence on political and business lobbies that continually vie for impunity and unrestrained access to power and economic resources, including groups within the judiciary yielding significant informal power. In order to be assured of possibilities for expanding their influence within the judiciary without being held accountable, including by the spread of corruption, the circles in question are inclined to comply with specific 'requests' on the part of the powers that be who subsequently use the outcome as a means of gaining populist approval. The inefficient and questionable appointment, promotion and dismissal of magistrates, corruption scandals and other problems that have recently surfaced are a direct consequence of this state of affairs. The true cause for the many challenges the judiciary faces has its roots in the established constitutional and institutional set up.

The majority of reforms undertaken in the judiciary to date are merely a faint-hearted attempt to address existing structural problems through superfluous measures, which can literally be described as mimicry. The focus placed on strengthening of the institutional capacity of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) in the past, including by making it a standing body, the reinforcement of its administration, setting up an Inspection Service under its jurisdiction, and ensuring greater transparency of top judicial appointments, have logically failed to address the fundamental issue of the dependence of the system on undue influence and illegitimate interests.

This type of formalistic reform effort is already displaying specific symptoms of the very disease it purportedly attempts to cure. To wit, by adopting the model of a standing body, which requires magistrates to leave their professional environment for five years whilst acting as full-time members of the SJC without setting in place mechanisms for accountability vis-à-vis the rest of the judicature and ones that limit the possibilities for political pressure on SJC members, have both failed to improve the standard of governance and caused an administrative 'caste' to emerge, which acts to further its own interests by either creating or subsisting on the strength of different lobbies and garnering support from different political and business interest groups.

The newly-elected SJC (whose term in office commenced on 3 October 2012) is the second council to function as a standing body. As stated in the summary five-year report of the European Commission dated 18 July 2012, the former SJC did not address any of the major problems of the judiciary such as performance assessment and disciplinary proceedings against magistrates, which remained inefficient and tainted by abuse; the failure to conduct competitions for the promotion of judges on a regular basis and the significant delays that occurred for this reason, which allowed many judges to be seconded to superior courts and prosecution services at the sole discretion of administrative managers thereby creating volatility and insecurity amongst magistrates; the failure to ensure promotions that are on merit, i.e. on the standard of work of judges and prosecutors; the failure to ensure transparent and sound financial management despite the significant resources invested In the system; the dramatic delay in the implementation of information technologies or, conversely, where such technologies were implemented, the failure to eliminate doubts that the respective systems were used in contravention of the law (notably the failure to remove any possibility to manipulate random case allocation). The SJC also failed in the performance of its principal constitutional duty of safeguarding the independence of the judiciary. Instead it generated a series of scandals with wide-reaching repercussions that demonstrated its dependence on political and business lobbies. To wit, the SJC resoundingly failed to adequately and firmly oppose the numerous statements made by the Minister of Internal Affairs on pending trials, including the series of open attacks against benches that delivered judgments that did not 'conform to expectations'. The appointment of administrative managers of courts and prosecution services caused a particularly strong public outcry. None of the appointments made in the period between 2009 and 2012 have been reasonably justified (even if a minimum professional standard is to be applied) whilst the scandals that followed the appointments of administrative managers of key courts in the country (Sofia Appellate Court in 2009; Supreme Administrative Court in 2010; and Sofia City Court in 2011) amply demonstrated that close ties to strong political figures and support from centres of power in the executive branch of government is a key prerequisite despite the flagrant absence of professional merit and the requisite experience for appointment to a senior office; a multitude of unaddressed integrity issues; and the poignant failure for nominees to receive any support from fellow magistrates.

Indeed it was the need for adopting a structural approach to addressing these issues, including the forthcoming election of members of the new SJC and appointment of a new Prosecutor General in the autumn of 2012, that prompted the Bulgarian Judges Association (BJA) - the largest organisation of magistrates in Bulgaria - to develop, along with 11 leading NGOs working in the area of justice, a conceptual draft proposing changes to the model underlying the SJC and the procedures for appointing administrative managers of courts within the existing constitutional framework, which was submitted to the Ministry of Justice for consideration[2]. The measures put forth sought to achieve a deep and meaningful reform that would ensure the independence of the judiciary and raise the efficiency of its governance. The ideas were fully in line with the recommendations set out in the report of the European Commission drawn up in the framework of the CVM, the opinions of the Venice Commission regarding the need to separate the governance of courts from that of prosecution services, reforming the model for appointments and reducing the Parliamentary 'quota' in the SJC, the sentencing judgments of the ECHR in cases against Bulgaria and the positions of the Consultative Council of European Judges (CCEJ).

The following proposals were put forth:

  • that the professional 'quotas' (of judges, prosecutors and investigating magistrates) be elected directly on the basis of the 'one magistrate - one vote' principle with a view to eliminating any possibility for manipulating the outcome of indirect voting and neutralizing the informal centres of power within the judicature working to maintain the existing status quo;
  • that two chambers be set up within the SJC responsible for judges and for prosecutors and investigating magistrates, respectively, with a view to ensuring the independence of courts;
  • that the SJC discontinues to function as a standing body and instead adopts a model of holding weekly sessions to ensure that magistrates are able to continue to perform their core judicial duties over the lengthy period of their five-year appointment, thereby discouraging council members from effectively becoming an administrative and command nomenclature that gradually loses sight of the actual needs of judges and prosecutors and equally its sensitivity and competence;
  • creating mechanisms enabling the active participation of rank and file judges and prosecutors in decision-making with implications for the judiciary, including mechanisms for consulting judges in the framework of general assemblies on nominations for administrative managers of courts.

Despite receiving wide professional and public support the proposals were ignored. The Ministry of Justice submitted to Parliament a draft law amending the Judiciary Act (JA) that altered solely the procedural rules for the election of a Supreme Judicial Council, choosing to completely dismiss structural issues.

Yet both the general public and professional organisations remained hopeful of achieving a breakthrough in the efforts to further judiciary reform in light of the forthcoming key appointments to take place in November 2011 and throughout 2012, including the election of a new SJC and an Inspection Service thereto, and the appointment of a Prosecutor General as well as other top-level appointments at bodies of key significance for the supremacy of the law, notably the Constitutional Court and the Commission for Confiscation of the Proceeds of Crime. As the European Commission has emphasized on a number of occasions, there were general expectations that the procedures set in place will ensure that in-depth checks be conducted to verify the integrity and competence of proposed nominees and, equally, transparency and public participation in the process as a solid guarantee for a reasoned, honest and independent contest ultimately underlined by a commitment to reform and willingness to formulate a meaningful programme capable of winning the trust of society.

The majority of the appointments mentioned above have already taken place. Despite the loud assertions on the part of government officials that they represent a significant step forward, it is easy to ascertain that the formalistic application of new procedures was not underlined by a genuine commitment to reform the system and decisively remove lingering doubts that the top levels of the judiciary continue to act under undue influence and pressure. Yet publicity failed to evolve into meaningful disclosure and examination of all factors generating corruption and different forms of dependence. Optimistic rhetoric notwithstanding, neither has a genuine assessment of the state-of-play of the judiciary been conducted nor has a programme mapping out decisive steps in the reform been developed to date. On the contrary, a brief overview of individual appointments raises serious concerns that an attempt is being made to preserve and reinforce the existing status quo.

1. At the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012 the Parliament endorsed the incumbents of the new Inspection Service under the jurisdiction of the SJC (ISSJC). The procedure was highly non-transparent and lacked any element of contest between the nominees whose integrity and professional merit were taken for granted and failed to be verified by conducting dedicated hearings. The decision to appoint mostly prosecutors as inspectors as opposed to judges failed to be substantiated. The outcome had been decided in advance by party-political agreement that removed the imperative for conducting a contest and rendered the attending need for civic participation effectively void. The ultimate withdrawal of one of the appointees whose name was linked to some of the most controversial decisions of the former SJC was not the outcome of inherent democratic mechanisms but of the strong criticism expressed by the European Commission and the personal involvement of the Prime Ministers who by Constitution does not play any role in the process of appointing inspectors of the judicature. Strong doubts continue to linger as to whether the newly appointed inspectors conform to the requisite standard for professional competence and independence that would enable them to carry out the important duties vested in the ISSJC.

2. In September 2012, a new SJC was elected. Despite the changes to the procedure for election of SJC members from the Parliamentary quota, the strong political influence channeled by that group into the council could not be neutralized. The decision-making process that led to the endorsement of the individual nominations and the true reasons for the decisions made remain undisclosed. The reluctance to ensure a broad and inclusive competition beyond the ranks of political nominees translated into a firm refusal on the part of Members of Parliament to allow the participation of candidates nominated by a coalition of NGOs. The special-purpose committee tasked with the election failed to conduct an in-depth examination with a view to ascertaining the integrity of proposed nominees based on a comprehensive and proactive appraisal of all factors for corruption. Despite an outward appearance of broad publicity, the hearing was purely formalistic. To wit, at its very beginning the Speaker of Parliament prohibited any questions relating to personal interdependencies and interests whilst the list of questions received by the NGO coalition was completely ignored. Following the hearing, the special-purpose committee effectively refused to comply with its express statutory obligation to draw up a report setting out its conclusions on the merits of proposed nominees and instead produced a four-page document citing individual provisions laid down by law and giving a one sentence review of the outcome of the hearing for each candidate. This approach effectively quashed the possibility for an informed vote of the list of nominees put forth in plenary session.

The decision to maintain the existing two-tier model for nominations from the professional quota through delegates' assemblies lived up to the expectations for administrative and lobbyist pressure. The refusal to adopt the direct election model underlined by the 'one magistrate - one vote' principle and the impression of an unyielding status quo continues to undermine the motivation of magistrates to participate in the campaign and put forth nominations. The rules for ballot counting and documenting of the election result had to be developed ad hoc whilst delegates' assemblies were in progress and left persistent doubts as to vote manipulation by local assemblies tasked with nominating delegates to take part in the general assembly. It should also be noted that at the latter event rank and file judges were strongly outnumbered by administrative managers.

The outcome of the procedure demonstrates that at least some of the newly-elected SJC members are tainted by doubts in that their appointments are regarded as having been decided in advance on the strength of political and lobbyist considerations. Abounding concerns about potential interdependencies remain unaddressed whilst the absence of any relevant prior professional experience, let alone merit or a degree of competence in the area of judiciary reform - and in certain cases even an opinion on the most pressing challenges that affect the system - fuel further doubts as to the real reasons for the election of some of those who now sit on the SJC. Naturally, this has diminished the initial credit of trust in the new council as a body determined to act with strong will and a clear vision for decisive reform.

3. In October 2012, the Parliament was to nominate two candidates for justices of the Constitutional Court. Procedural rules based on those for the election of SJC members from the Parliamentary quota were approved. Although the process of nominating candidates lacked any measure of transparency, the forerunners of the ruling majority (the political party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria and several independent members of parliament who support it in the National Assembly) were known in advance, which demonstrates both the theatrical nature of the procedure and that its outcome had been predetermined. The special-purpose committee yet again failed to conduct an in-depth and proactive check on the candidates and all factors for corruption, relying on a highly formalistic hearing session. The Parliament also turned a blind eye to received information based on media publications, which alleged unethical behaviour and corruption with implications for one of the nominees - Justice Veneta Markovska, the long-standing deputy chairperson of the Supreme Administrative Court. Despite the strong doubts questioning her integrity, Mrs. Markovska's nomination for Justice of the Constitutional Court was endorsed by Parliament with an overwhelming majority of votes. In the wake of strong criticism from the European Commission, the special-purpose committee held a second hearing (after the vote of Parliament) and repeatedly again failed to examine the questionable circumstances surrounding the endorsed nominee. In the following days, whilst the Parliament continued to deny any grounds for doubting the integrity of its preferred candidate and the Minister of Internal Affairs verbally attacked journalists who raised questions relating to the nomination and ordered the police to 'discover the identity' of the person who had sent the information to Parliament, new facts were disclosed in the public domain that raised further doubts as to whether Mrs. Markovska conformed to the requirements for appointment as justice of the Constitutional Court.

On the day when the newly-elected justices were to take an oath of office at the Constitutional Court the President of the Republic, allegedly acting on new information about Mrs. Markovska received from the Prosecution Service, left the ceremony, which prompted the former President of the Constitutional Court to discontinue it thereby preventing Mrs. Markovska from taking office - a development, which was applauded by the Prime Minister. Subsequently, the Supreme Judicial Council discharged Mrs. Markovska from office on her request without conducting a review to verify the serious allegations about her conduct, including that she was engaged in trading in influence.

The election of Mrs. Markovska by Parliament has shed light on certain disconcerting practices in case allocation and deciding the composition of benches sitting at the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC), which is the highest judicial instance. The issue was explored in several medial publications and the BJA, along with six other NGOs, insisted that the SJC Immediately conducts a check as a confirmation of any of the stated allegations would compromise public order and jeopardize the rule of law and the interests of all citizens defending their rights before the Supreme Administrative Court in equal measure. Furthermore, such determination would deeply undermine the political system in the country prior to the forthcoming Parliamentary elections and the protection of public economic interest (the SAC is the highest judicial instance in Bulgaria with competence to adjudicate legal disputes, including cases contesting election results). The SJC refused to conduct a dedicated inspection on the pretext that case allocation was included in its work programme for 2013, i.e. it would examine it on general grounds in that framework. At the same time, some SJC members even voiced doubts as to their competence to carry out inspections on a supreme court, which yet again demonstrates a flagrant lack of understanding of the rationale and magnitude of the administrative powers vested in the supreme body of the judiciary.

4. Following the withdrawal of Mrs. Markovska from the procedure the nomination of Galya Gugusheva, Deputy Chairperson of the Specialist Appellate Prosecution Service (SAPP), was announced. Publications giving rise to concern appeared in the media shortly after the announcement disclosing questionable property transactions conducted by the son and mother of the new nominee and a series of financial transactions with personal implications for Mrs. Gugusheva, which were hard to reasonably explain. Her nomination was subsequently withdrawn but the question of her appointment as deputy chairperson of the Specialist Appellate Prosecution Service (SAPP) - a body set up with the express goal of combating organised crime - in July 2012, i.e. only five months earlier, without a single question being asked about the financial standing and property owned by her family remains without an answer. The Ethics Committee of the SJC refused to institute disciplinary proceedings against her, deciding that her inconsistent and contradictory statements concerning her family property transactions and the manner in which they were financed did not undermine the reputation of the judiciary. However, only three days later Mrs. Gugusheva was demoted from deputy chairperson of the SAPP to a rank and file prosecutor with the institution on the grounds of 'the doubts as to her integrity that occasioned the withdrawal of her nomination for justice of the Constitutional Court'. To date, the SJC has failed to indicate its awareness of the apparent contradiction in the line of action taken in the matter. Consequently, Mrs. Gugusheva's reputation has neither been protected nor has she been cleared of doubt, which will inevitably reflect on the attitude towards her work as prosecutor in the future.

5.  Election procedures and the expectations for a breakthrough in judiciary reform came to a head with the election of a new Prosecutor General by the SJC, which took place in November and December 2012 and played the role of a catalyst for the willingness of the supreme body of the judiciary to reform the system. The SJC adopted rules of procedure according to which profiles of the candidates were to be published, hearings conducted and the participation of civil society welcomed. Nevertheless, the rules contained certain provisions, which alarmed observers that they sought to achieve a specific election outcome regardless of the environment, which called for eliminating the slightest doubts as to a predetermined outcome and attempts at interference on the part of the executive branch of government.

Diverging from its practice when choosing an incumbent amongst several contenders, the SJC rejected the use of integral ballot papers, which ensure that members can effectively and simultaneously exercise their voting right indicating their preferred candidate whilst confirming in full with the requirement for secrecy of the ballot laid down in the Constitution. Instead, a decision was made to use an electronic voting system where candidates are voted consecutively following the announcement of the number of voted each has received. At the same time serious doubts were raised, including on the basis of a journalist investigation of the company that had developed the system, that the secrecy of the vote is not safeguarded. Despite insistent calls on the part of SJC members and civil society organisations for the removal of any doubt by using an integral ballot paper, the majority of the SJC refused to alter its decision. In addition, instead of voting on candidates in an alphabetical order, they nominations were voted in the order in which they had been received. Literally minutes after the procedural rules were approved, seven members of the SJC submitted the nomination of Mr. Sotir Tsatsarov, which had been prepared in advance (had the nominations been voted in alphabetical order, Mr. Tsatsarov's would have been voted last). Several months before the commencement of the procedure commenced and the election of the new SJC he was publicly known as the preferred candidate of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Internal Affairs. The strong feeling of a predetermined outcome of the election process was further fuelled by the public endorsement of his nomination by high-ranking government officials.

Whilst the election procedure was ongoing, a number of media publications raised doubts as to Mr. Tsatsarov's integrity, values and resilience to outside influence, particularly from the executive branch of government. Information was disclosed implicating him and his wife in property transactions involving underdeclaration of the real value of acquired properties, which gave rise to speculation about intentions to delay or avoid the payment of full stamp duty on the consideration involved. Human rights organisations questioned Mr. Tsatsarov's attitude to the protection of human rights in light of the significant number of ECHR sentencing judgments against Bulgaria on the basis of actions of magistrates working in the judicial district headed by Mr. Tsatsarov in the capacity of administrative manager since 1999. Further doubts arose on the grounds of what has been described as 'unduly close ties of cooperation with the authorities of the Ministry of Internal Affairs' best exemplified by a firearm Mr. Tsatsarov allegedly received as an 'award' from a former Minister of Internal Affairs and a number of documented working meetings between him, the prosecution service and representatives of the regional Directorate of Internal Affairs that had taken place. In this context and in connection to the open preference for Mr. Tsatsarov's nomination on the part of Mr. Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Minister of Internal Affairs, the admission made during the hearing that the administrative manager of the Plovdiv Regional Court had granted Mr. Tsatsarov access to the case-file on the libel lawsuit filed against the interior minister on the record of that court and that he had read it despite not having the right to do so in the capacity of administrative manager of the court before which the ruling was to be appealed is particularly disconcerting.

Although a lot of information was proactively gathered about all nominees, including Mr. Tsatsarov, by the Ethics Committee and dedicated hearings took place, none of the questions with implications for Mr. Tsatsarov's integrity received a satisfactory answer. Some of the questions posed by the media were not even asked. Published documents were incomplete and during Mr. Tsatsarov's hearing neither all questions were exhausted nor was there any measure of insistence for full and specific answers to be given. A case in point is the questions asking what Mr. Tsatsarov would do if elected Prosecutor General in connection to the ECHR sentencing judgment against Bulgaria on the grounds of excessive use of deadly force during a police operation under the command of the current Prime Minister (then Secretary-General of the Ministry of Internal Affairs) and the inefficient investigation conducted in the wake of the incident[3].

The hearing before the SJC was of a better standard as compared to those conducted before the General Assembly in terms of duration, level of detail and relevance of the questions posed to the nominees. However, after the end of the hearing the SJC practically refused to discuss both the merits of each candidate and the doubts in the public domain as to their integrity. The only SJC member who set out to outline detailed arguments in respect of the moral integrity and professional competence of the candidates was met with extreme hostility and severely reproached by his colleagues for the initiative.

After his nomination was voted first by use of the electronic system, Mr. Tsatsarov received the necessary number of ballots and the Minister of Justice Mrs. Kovacheva, who chaired the meeting, discontinued the procedure not allowing the other two nominations to be put to the vote. This constitutes a violation of the passive electoral rights of two of the nominees but equally a violation of the active electoral rights of the six SJC members who did not support the nomination of Mr. Tsatsarov. It also precluded any possibility to verify the accuracy of the election outcome. Despite these procedural flaws, the failure to remove the doubts in respect of Mr. Tsatsarov's integrity and hold a meaningful discussion of his professional qualities and intentions, the President of the Republic signed a Decree on his appointment several hours later, ignoring the appeals of civil society organisations not to do so and the repeated assertions of opposition political parties in Parliament according to which the election had a predetermined outcome.

III. Conclusions regarding Bulgaria's internal capacity to reform the judiciary

Insofar as last year our expectations of a breakthrough in the reform of the judiciary centered upon the appointments of top ranking officials in the judiciary and other bodies concerned in upholding the rule of law, we would like to summarise our impressions gained in the course of monitoring of conducted procedures:

  • procedures are applied in a manner that does not ensure that the ultimate decision made will be in line with the goals the procedure seeks to achieve. On the contrary, a host of diverse factors creates a perception that decisions are made in advance and away from public scrutiny on the basis of considerations that fail to take public interest into account. The manner of putting forth nominations and the underlying reasons remain non-transparent. However, it is clear that 'winners' are chosen prior to formal selection and the commencement of procedures whilst the media frequently carry reports of preferred figures about whose subsequent election political figures - often not at all formally concerned in the procedure - have reached an agreement. The intervention on the part of senior ranking officials of the executive branch of government and the absence of full guarantees for the integrity of appointed figures raises doubts as to independent decision-making;
  • Procedures are not underlined by a strong commitment to the appointment of officials of undisputed integrity that have been able to convincingly address all questions posed. No independent and proactive information gathering is undertaken (or where it is its scope is severely limited) with a view to enabling a subsequent in-depth analysis of all relevant circumstances raising doubts as to the integrity of candidates and the presence of potential factors for corruption. The scope of checks is effectively limited to obtaining information about any criminal or disciplinary offences committed by the nominees, which replaces the high standard for integrity the incumbents of high judicial offices must conform to with a minimum one. At the same time, the election and appointment of candidates who have failed to remove sometimes serious doubts of dishonest conduct lowers selection criteria whilst no meaningful discussions of professional merits takes place. There is a strong perception that both those putting forth nominations and the bodies responsible for their election/appointment act on behalf of other political figures and out of motives other than those declared in public, reaching covert agreements without there being any measure of clarity as to who the real decision-makers are and what type of influence and mechanisms they have applied to ensure the achievement of the desired result.
  • The hearings are superfluous and formalistic to the exclusion of in-depth interviewing. To the extent the nominees' profiles are discussed by the decision-making body, it is declarative in tone and limited to general clichés. Decisions are not based on facts and their relevance to the current state-of-play of the institution the candidate is to head is not examined. Similarly, neither is an initial assessment of the challenges the body concerned is faced up with carried out nor is a job description compiled for the position concerned.
  • Publicity has failed to evolve to genuine transparency, let alone meaningful public participation. The questions, opinions and proposals put forth by representatives of civil society and the media are ignored. Non-government organisations and journalists are frequently subjected to verbal attacks and any questions raised described as negative campaigning against the preferred candidate. The institutions routinely turn a blind eye to the systemic problems underlying public scandals whilst certain nominees stubbornly refuse to act on the calls of civil society and address them.
  • The experience from past mistakes and the scandals associated with previous appointment procedures fail to be taken into account. On the contrary, substantially similar flaws are replicated, which raise serious doubts as regards the professional merit and integrity of both appointees and the reform. In turn, the compromised selection creates a new type of dependence vis-à-vis the incumbents of high judicial offices. Yet another serious concern is that no rules were adopted for the appointment of the members of the Commission for Confiscation of Criminal Proceeds elected by Parliament, which compromises the transparency and effectiveness of the mechanism for verification of the merit and integrity of candidates and the hearing procedure. This indicates that as far as the appointment of the members of this body of crucial significance to the reform even the minimal achievement of outward publicity will be abandoned. This is corroborated by the appointment of the chairperson of the Commission by the Prime Minister without any criteria for the incumbent being announced in advance.

In order to conduct a full and comprehensive appraisal of the magnitude and impact of the lack of transparency in the appointment of top officials in public administration and the institutions called upon to uphold the rule of law, it must be noted that the appointments tainted by shadows of doubt are to fit into an environment characterised by unresolved fundamental problems, which per force create interdependencies and instill fear in rank and file judges and prosecutors. There is no standard for the reasonable and achievable workload of magistrates, which continues to create a serious disbalance in the case-load handled by the different courts and prosecution services in the judicial districts across the country. The very concept underlying the procedure for promotion is flawed because it allows the dedicated committees to be composed of members who lack the necessary competence. Hence, contrary to the stipulations of international standards on the assessment of the work of judges, committees fail to carry out the performance assessments on the basis of the cases adjudicated by the magistrate concerned. In a similar vein, the practice of both the SJC and SAC in disciplinary cases is highly inconsistent. The insecurity stemming from the fear that magistrates cannot rely on the supremacy of law in disciplinary proceedings was reinforced by an order issued by the administrative manager of the SAC issued in 2012 according to which cases relating to disciplinary hearings were removed from the remit of competence of a specific department of the SAC and assigned to another. Contrary to that essentially personal decision of the administrative manager and in compliance with the express stipulations of the Judiciary Act, at the Supreme Court of Cassation such decisions are made by the Plenary of all supreme justices. The requirement laid down in the JA is fully aligned to the fundamental requirements laid down in Article 6 of the ECPHRFF for hearings to be conducted by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law, which means that decisions in this respect may not depend on the administrative discretion and powers vested in one individual. At the same time, the inadequate and inconsistent disciplinary practice of the ISSJC, which as a matter of priority is focused on conducting checks to ascertain whether a magistrate allows delays to occur in their work despite the lack of any standard allowing to judge the workload of individual magistrates, is yet another factor exacerbating the vulnerability of judges and prosecutors alike. The emphasis placed solely on the adjudication of cases within the indicative timeframes stipulated by law is a condition for lowering the standard of work of magistrates.

The environment into which the controversial appointments are made is yet another is strongly influenced by yet another factor for instability and insecurity. The verbal aggression against the independence of the judiciary by top-ranking officials of the government not only failed to be discontinued but effectively escalated. In its 2011 report a mission of the European Judges Association ascertained the following: 'It is clear that […] the insinuations and even accusations made by the Minister of Internal affairs of corruption and incompetence of judges are a threat to the independence of the judiciary and seriously undermine the rule of law. They put strong pressure on individual judges […]'[4]. In a public statement announced in August 2012 the International Commission of Jurists, commenting on the dismissal on disciplinary grounds of Judge Miroslava Todorova, also drew attention to 'the repeated verbal attacks on the judiciary by members of the Government, in particular by the Minister of the Interior, which pose a threat to judicial independence in the country'[5]. Despite international response and several appeals of the BJA calling for a discontinuation of the irresponsible slanderous campaign against the courts by the government, on 2 July 2011 Minister Tsvetanov stated in public that in the future the police operations for the apprehension of persons released by court order will be named after judges. Subsequently, on two occasions In January 2012 and 2013 the Ministry of Internal Affairs named two police operations for the apprehension of absconded detainees released under house arrest after judges, producing abbreviations replicating their surnames, which purportedly described, in offensive terms, the character of the detainees in question but in fact literally reproduced the surname of judges sitting on the benches that ordered detention to be replaced by house arrest. The second such operation came in the wake of the European Commission's report of 18 July 2012, which states the following: 'Judiciary independence was also called into question after individual judges were criticised by political figures' and that 'The overall impression is an inability to respect the separation of State powers, which has direct implications for public trust in the judiciary'.

The procedure for the selection of a Prosecutor General and the reaction of the SJC in the wake of the 'Markovska' and 'Gugusheva' scandals and against the more recent statements of the Minister of Internal Affairs on pending criminal lawsuits that yet again disparage and levy unwarranted criticism against the court have now escalated into a test for the new composition of the Council. Regrettably, the SJC has failed to demonstrate resolve to break away from the influence of the executive branch of government and demonstrate strong will to address the systemic problems in the judiciary. The plain refusal to verify and remove the doubts surrounding the nomination and election of Mr. Tsatsarov and acknowledge the concerns voiced by civil society organisations in respect of elements of the procedural rules that undermine the fairness of the election outcome and the near total lack of a debate on the professional merit and integrity of candidates are all cases in point.

The consistent refusal of the SJC to adequately respond to the calls voiced by NGOs for conducting an inspection on case allocation at the SAC is equally significant. In this context, it must be noted that some of the most important committees of the SJC whose work has a direct impact on judicial independence are headed by members elected by Parliament.

Along with these factors, concern has been voiced at other actions taken by the new SJC. Despite inheriting a legacy of total disarray in the budget of the judiciary, the new SJC has failed to indicate its willingness to audit the budget (including the funds disbursed under projects funded by the EU and other international organisations). The deliberations surrounding the new budget and the dismissal of the calls of civil society organisations in this respect are not indicative of a strong will to undertake a budgetary reform with an aim of formulating clear efficiency criteria, eliminating the factors that allow individual magistrates to be placed in situations of financial dependence and ensuring transparency in the disbursement of budgetary funds in general (the BJA has sent a detailed letter raising pertinent questions in this regard but has not received a substantiated and factual answer to date)[6].

The publication of the work programme of the SJC setting out the planned tasks to be undertaken in many important areas of justice administration is a step in the right direction. The failure to hold a discussion prior to adopting the programme and the largely negative experience in terms of the communication between the SJC, civil society and the magistrate community to date, however, raise questions as to whether the Council will succeed in translating the programme into real action instead of allowing it to simply remain a paper testifying to unfulfilled intentions. These concerns are further rooted in the deprivation of civil society of a possibility to observe the process of selecting measures because that process took place away from public scrutiny - debates were conducted in closed hearings, which means that the principles underlying the declared intentions remain unconvincing. For this reason, in the next few months taking action will be essential for the SJC.

A full appraisal of the state-of-play of the judiciary requires attention to be drawn to one of the findings set out in the European Commission's report of July 2012, notably that the momentum and direction of reform has been lost. Despite the stated intention of the Ministry of Justice to assess the implementation of its Strategy for Further Judicial Reform as a basis for drawing up an action plan as envisaged in the Strategy, no assessment exercise has been undertaken. The new draft amending the JA fails to address the most important areas of reform as a matter of principle. The powers that be have failed to acknowledge any need efforts to overcome structural problems and hence no action is taken. Along with the proposals put forth by the NGO coalition in February 2012, the call for a comprehensive rethinking at conceptual level of the status and role of the administrative managers of courts and prosecution services was also ignored.

Last but not least, in order to gauge the internal capacity for reform in Bulgaria the state-of-play of the media and the freedom of journalists must be taken into consideration. The growing general concern in this respect has significant implications for judiciary reform. An inefficient media environment that fails to effectively and consistently monitor public institutions via truthful and objective reporting of events and journalistic investigations will further undermine the publicity and transparency of appointment procedures whilst scandals remain far removed from any meaningful effort to combat corruption. The lack of transparency in terms of ownership and financing, along with all other factors enabling corporate control of media organisations, is a heavy blow on journalistic independence. The non-transparent and, possibly, non-competitive financing includes money transfers in different forms of mostly EU funds by government bodies to media organisations. The failure to apply the Public Procurement Act as regards television channels, the non-transparent contractual conditions for the transfers concerned and keeping the public in the dark as to the services, if at all legitimate, media are expected to deliver in return and the manner in which such services are rendered are yet another powerful instrument for media control. Last but not least, the failure to observe even the lowest ethical standard in terms of the relations between political and business figures on the one hand and journalists or decision-makers controlling the editorial policy of media, on the other hand, also create an environment in which informal pressure and corruption thrive.

In 2012, all these factors came into play, each contributing to the high judicial appointments discussed above and the stagnation in the efforts of civil society to mobilise meaningful efforts for reform. Many media, including TV channels, practically failed to report the issues or did so in an inadequate and manipulative manner refusing to give wide publicity to outrageous findings and the ensuing public outcry. Leading politicians pointed fingers and verbally attacked those media that did report the developments in the judiciary and conducted journalistic investigations. There is hardly any doubt that neither the political elite in Bulgaria has a strong and genuine will to carry out reforms nor can there be sufficient critical mass capable of restarting the reform effort without free and objective media committed to impartial reporting, including of developments in the judiciary.

IV. Structural reform - the way forward

To address the factors that continually undermine judicial independence, create conditions for the spread of corruption and diminish the impact of all other good governance measure it is imperative that the following actions be taken:

1. Reform of the model underlying the SJC with a view to ensuring:

  • separate administration of the affairs of judges and prosecutors;
  • significantly smaller number of SJC members elected by parliament with a view to achieving the standard prescribed by the CCEJ according to which the affairs of judges are to be administered mostly by judges elected by judges as a safeguard against undue political and economic influence;
  • ensuring representation and accountability in the constitution and work of the SJC, including through stronger direct participation of magistrates in standing committees;
  • streamlining the competence, accountability and capacity of the SJC and the administrative service under its jurisdiction by changing the underlying model on which it is based, i.e. transforming it from a standing body into one holding individual sessions, along with strengthening the commitment of rank and file magistrates to participate in administrative affairs through different forms of involvement in the activities carried out by the SJC.

2. Reform of the underlying model of courts, including:

  • rethinking of the role of administrative managers of courts, the duration of their term in office and the procedure for their appointment as a key condition for raising the trust of rank and file judges in their professionalism on the basis of the 'first among equals' principle;
  • introducing stronger elements of judicial self-governance not only vis-à-vis the constitution and work of the SJC but also individual courts as an efficient measure for the dilution of unlawful centres of informal power and undue influence in the judiciary.

3. Reform of the status of judges, including:

  • performance assessment, promotion and taking disciplinary action against judges in a manner that strengthens their competence, independence and integrity by placing an emphasis on an objective appraisal of the quality of their judicial work;
  • balancing the workload of individual courts and of the judges within a court on the basis of a standard developed by the SJC for a reasonable individual case-load that is fair, i.e. balanced and objectively achievable in light of the requirement for hearing cases in a reasonable time;
  • ensuring that the work of judges is adequately paid and that individual remuneration are not determined at the discretion of administrative bodies.

4. Rethinking of the underlying model of the Prosecution Service on the basis of an in-depth, professional analysis of the failings in investigating criminal offences at the top echelons of power with strong implications for significant economic interests and in light of the structural conclusions drawn from ECHR judgments delivered in the cases of the Kolevs (2009) and Biser Kostov (2012), including:

  • clear determination of the role of the Prosecutor General and the accountability mechanisms for the position;
  • safeguards against undue political and economic influence on the work of the prosecution service;
  • defining a model for prosecutorial independence and accountability, including in terms of the reporting lines within each prosecution service and the responsibilities of prosecutors for individual cases under investigation;
  • developing dedicated criteria for reporting on the efficiency of prosecutorial work that are different from those applicable to judges, including job performance assessment criteria, a set of disciplinary measures and a methodology for balancing their workload.

5. Applying systematic and consistent anti-corruption measures, including:

  • stronger safeguards against conflict of interest and nepotism;
  • developing the mechanisms for publicity and transparency of the property and financial standing of magistrates and disclosure of ties;
  • consistent and proactive checks conducted to ascertain the presence of factors for corruption in the appointments and promotions decided by the competent body and application of the standard for integrity being beyond any reasonable doubt, i.e. furnishing proof of immaculate integrity as opposed to presuming one.

These measures are based on the international standards in the area of the judiciary. They follow directly from the conclusions drawn by the European Commission, PACE the Venice Commission and ECHR case-law. They represent an interlinked reform package, which would open the way for better administration of the judiciary, eradicating corruption and affirming the resolve to apply the law.  The effort to undertake them as a matter of priority for the Bulgarian government and their implementation or, equally, the failure to do so will be the true test that will demonstrate the presence or absence of political will to achieve progress in the area of judicial reform.

V.  Conclusion

In conclusion, we would like to firstly underline that the superfluous changes to appointment procedures have logically failed to achieve the aim of protecting public interest and restart judicial reform by placing it’s affairs in the hands of leaders that are free from any doubt and command respect for their professional merit and independence. Secondly, the agenda of public institutions and political powers in the country currently practically exclude any goals that are conducive to overcoming the structural problems generating corruption and inefficiencies in the judiciary. That status quo yet again delays much needed reform for an indefinite period. Thirdly, our long-standing experience as civil society organisations advocating reform and sanctioning cases of corruption and abuse, including in the repressed media environment, reinforces our conviction that the only efficient instrument capable of sustaining the momentum of reform at government level is intensive international monitoring and pressure.

The good news in 2012 was that publicity, albeit forced from outside, in terms of top judicial appointments has clearly outlined the mechanisms of undue influence, corruption and blocking of the functioning of institutions. The picture that emerged presents a rare opportunity to pinpoint failings and to formulate and guide reforms in the direction outlined in the first part of the paper. However, this may only be achieved if reform initiatives amongst magistrates and civil society organisations are accompanied by unwavering European commitment to active support regardless of any narrower expedience considerations stemming from the development of the situation on the ground.   

[1] See Report of the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the progress achieved by Bulgaria under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism of 18 July 2012, page 3: ‘The CVM does not require Bulgaria to achieve standards that exceed those that exist in other Member States. Its goal is to help Bulgaria achieve standards that are comparable to those in other Member States’. (in Bulgarian):;

[2] See Concept for amendment of the Judiciary Act dated 14 February 2012 (in Bulgarian):;

[3] ECHR Judgment in the Case Dimov and Others v. Bulgaria of 6 November 2012{%22itemid%22:[%22001-114253%22

[4] See Meelis Eric, Gerhard Reisner, Maarten Steenbeeck, Report of the Delegation of the European Judges Associationon the visit to Sofia in the period  27-28 January 2011, paragraph  4.1;

[5] See Public Statement of the International Commission of Jurists published on 27 August 2012 (in English):

[6] See full text of the letter at

01/22/2013 8 Bulgarian NGOs write to PACE members in support of a proposed Resolution on Bulgaria and continuation of the post-monitoring dialogue

In a letter to the members of the Parliamentary Assembly to the Council of Europe a coalition of eight leading Rule of Law and Human Rights NGOs in Bulgaria share their assessment of the progress of the judicial reform in the country. The authors of the letter are Access to Information Programme, Association for European Integration and Human Rights, Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Bulgarian Institute for Legal Initiatives, Bulgarian Judges Association, Bulgarian Lawyers for Human Rights, Institute for Public Environment Development, and RiskMonitor. The NGOs conclude that the principal challenge faced by the Bulgarian judicial branch is that its independence continues to be seriously undermined. They further state that the key factor eroding judicial independence has been pressure by the government and political and economic vested interests. In addition, they point out that fundamental structural reforms are needed to eliminate the institutional basis for corruption and political and economic pressure and that sustainable reforms in Bulgaria can only be ensured by international involvement. The authors of the letter remind that they have expressed on numerous occasions their growing concern that independence of the judiciary in Bulgaria continues to be undermined and addressing this issue is not a priority for the national institutions. They cite recent events where the attacks against judges by representatives of the executive continue and the ruling majority continues the longstanding practice of undermining judicial independence by making appointments of members of the Supreme Judicial Council, court presidents or other court officers, not based on their professional merit or even regardless of their questionable integrity, but solely on considerations of political expediency, such as political connections. 

10/19/2012 BILI Composed a Profile of the Prosecutor General

Following the TJAI methodology BILI composed a profile of the Prosecutor General - Boris Velchev. Mr Velchev is nominated by the President of the Republic Rosen Plevneliev for a judge at the the Constitutional Court from his quota. Plevneliev stated in his motives that under the leadership of Boris Velchev the Supreme Cassation Prosecutor's Office has become significantly more transparent and open to public scrutiny as an institution. Plevneliev noted that the Prosecutor General is well known in the professional circles and his academic and legal experience make him the ideal candidate for the post. BILI prepared the profile with the cooperation of the Prosecutor General himself. He added valuable comments to its content and also filled in the special Questionnaire. The profile is already available at the TJAI official website here.

10/15/2012 24 Mr. Kokinov, Chief Prosecutor of Sofia City Prosecution Office: The next Prosecutor General should be a Leader and a Unifier

Nikolai Kokinov, Chief Prosecutor at the Sofia City Prosecution Office, gives an interview for 24 chasa. Mr. Kokinov points three main downfalls in the work of the dismissed Supreme Judicial Council delay in the professional growth of magistrates, incoherent and inefficient criteria for measuring the docket-load in different courts/prosecution offices within the country, and the lack of criteria for professional growth. However, states the Sofia City Prosecutor, the recently elected Supreme Judicial Council shall be accessed in its work after a period of time.
Mr. Kokinov also comments on high-profile criminal cases and the Prosecution Offices involvement in the trials. He points that those cases are being analyzed after trial, so that conclusions could be drown and mistakes corrected.
Asked about the next prosecutor General, Nikolai Kokinov says that he should be a leader and a unifier.
On a question of the interviewer about his possible nomination for Prosecutor General Mr. Kokinov says that in case a proposition in this matter be made to him, he shall first answer those to make it. Discussing how he managed to stay away from public scandal, he shares that he lives a simple normal live and tries to be open and honest. To the full interview

10/03/2012 The New SJC Members Took Office Today

The new members of the Council officially took office today. To the newly elected 22 members were made following wishes: “justice, accountability, results and call for concentration on the urgent issues”.  The ceremony was held  at the Palace of Justice – “Solemn” hall. However, all judiciary members, deputies, special guests and journalists did not fill the whole hall. “Today, the entire Bulgarian state is here to declare its trust and to wish you good luck. You will be making important decisions. I am wishing you to make these decisions not because of Brussels and not because of party subordinations, but for the justice in Bulgaria. From now on substantial will be not only the reform initiatives lasted for so many years. The recipe for success is hidden in one simple word – results in the name of society and results in state interest, because democracy in Bulgarian is function of your work…”, stated the President  Mr Rosen Plevneliev in his speech at the ceremony. The first meeting of the new SJC was also held today. The Council will be represented by judge Sonya Naydenova (parliamentary quota). To the full article

10/01/2012 The Supreme Judicial Council dismissed of duty its successors

Today, October 1st, the former members of the Supreme Judicial Council (mandate as of 03.10.2007) held their last overtime meeting. 
The first regular meeting of the new Supreme Judicial Council will be held on October 3rd . The Council took the formal decision to dismiss the 20 newly elected members of the judiciary governing body.
Ms Diana Kovacheva (Minister of Justice) said: Our collaboration has been a good partnership. Thank you all, Im wishing you success. I hope we will work well with the new Supreme Judicial Council also.To the full article

09/28/2012 BILI was Awarded with the Golden Key Prize 

As we already mentioned, BILI was recognized as one of the four Golden key award nominees of the Access to Information programme in the category for Non-governmental organizations. Key role have the activities involved in the Transparent Judicial Appointment Initiative. The award was received by Mr Hristo Ivanov (Program Director with the Bulgarian Institute for Legal Initiatives). The ceremony was held for the tenth time and took place on the occasion of the International Right to Know Day.

09/19/2012 BILI is nominated for the Аward of Access to Information program

BILI was recognized as one of the four Golden key award nominees of the Access to Information program in the category for Non-governmental organizations. The nomination was received for active work devoted to the enhancement of transparency in the judiciary. An outstanding contribution in this respect is the Initiative for maintaining of public profiles of magistrates striving for career advancement in the leadership positions in the judiciary. Another motive for the nomination was BILI's active campaign during the elections of inspectors in the Inspectorate at the Supreme judicial council as well as of the newly elected members of the Council. It is recognized as a positive input that BILI has not hesitated to pursue their rights under the Access to Information Act when the circumstances so required. Due to BILIs efforts in court the administrative court of Sofia repealed at first instance the denial of the ISJC to allow access to the conclusions on inspected magistrate nominated as a candidate to the Inspectorate of the SJC. The ceremony is held annually on 28th of September to celebrate the International day of the right to know. Then the four selected winners will be announced.

07/18/2012 European Commission Promulgates the Report on the Progress in Bulgaria under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism

Throughout the Report:

The CVM does not ask Bulgaria to achieve higher standards than exist in other Member States. Its target is to help Bulgaria achieve standards comparable to other Member States, an objective supported by 78% of Bulgarians.
The first year of accession also saw the creation of new judicial institutions. An independent Judicial Inspectorate was created and a new Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) took office, with wide-ranging responsibilities for the management of the judicial system. These responsibilities included human resource management of the judiciary, including appointments, promotions, appraisals and staff allocation. The Council was also given disciplinary responsibility and therefore the task to safeguard the accountability and integrity of the judiciary and to ensure that judicial practice meets high professional standards.
With these attributions, the Council became the main actor in implementing judicial reform. Bulgaria has achieved results in implementing this new legal and institutional framework. For the first time, independent controls of courts and prosecutors offices have been carried out, recommendations regarding court management and judicial practice have been issued and a more robust approach has been taken to disciplinary activity. In addition, Bulgaria has improved procedural codes in all three branches of law and started to improve judicial practice.
However, these efforts have not yet led to significant improvements in judicial accountability and efficiency. Legal proceedings are often of an excessive duration. Disciplinary practice shows inconsistencies, and in many important cases has either not been able to conclude, or has not reached dissuasive results. Judicial appraisals, promotions and appointments are not yet transparent and do not follow objective and merit-based criteria. There is as yet no comprehensive human resources policy which can balance staff needs and workload. Measures to improve judicial practice often appear superficial and have not yet had a concrete effect on results in important cases. Questions remain about judicial independence. To the full text of the Report

06/08/2012 Bilyana Gyaurova-Wegertseder: Changes in the election procedure of the new Chief Prosecutor are not accidental

In an interview today the director of BILI Mrs. Bilyana Gyaurova-Wegertseder commented that the recently launched idea for amendments allowing the current and already tamed Supreme Judicial Council to elect the new Prosecutor General sounds like a joke both at the representatives of civil sector and the professional guild and at the recommendations of the European Commission (EC). In response to the statements of the government and the Parliament that there are no longer possibilities for direct election of the new SJC, she said that it is not a matter of further analysis but rather a matter of motivation and organization. Direct election, as reaffirmed also by the EC, is the most democratic mechanism available and has already been implemented in Romania in respect of twice as much judges and prosecutors. In this country it is provided that two members of the civil society shall also participate in the SJC composition. Mrs. Gyaurova also explained that the candidates for the positions of the three big have to justify the high public confidence voted to them and indicated also in the long mandate they receive (7 years). A possibility may be given to the minister of justice to nominate candidates, while the current members of the SJC have to guarantee transparent and objective election process by checking properly candidates career and professional qualities. She expressed the opinion that most probably the nominees names are already determined. To the full text of the article

06/07/2012 Hristo Ivanov: Judiciary needs a clear, consistent and reasoned policy

copyright: Yavor Nikolov

In an interview before the journalist Krasen Nikolov, attorney Hristo Ivanov discusses the amendments in the Judiciary System Act, the superficial changes in insignificant issues and the possibility of the current Supreme Judicial Council to elect the new Chief Prosecutor in Bulgaria.The mandate of Mr. Boris Velchev expires on February 19, 2013. After the amendments voted in the National Assembly today, the election procedure shall start six months earlier. Moreover, the current Supreme Judicial Council, whose mandate expires on October 3, may initiate the procedure. "Lets face it, the status quo is an important element of the explanation why are we living in a such country and certainly there are people who have an interest in its preservation. Our judiciary needs a clear, consistent and reasoned policy. Everything else is irresponsible and leading to doubts.", says Hristo. To the full text of the interview

06/06/2012 11 NGOs strongly urge legislators not to adopt the amendments in the Judiciary System Act

11 NGOs strongly urge legislators not to adopt the amendments in the Judiciary System Act in an open letter sent to the deputies in the National Assembly and the media. The amendments are about to be voted on second reading this Thursday at the National Assembly. The letter is supported by 11 NGOs in Bulgaia, including the largest judicial organization Bulgarian Judges Association and the Bulgarian Institute for Legal Initiatives.
This is not the first letter sent by the NGOs in a relation with the forthcoming changes in the Judiciary System Act. Several times before on various occasions, the NGOs called for change of the election procedures for the Supreme Judicial Council, as well as more transparency and accountability in the process. As it was stated in the February Interim Report of the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council a reform of the election process of the Supreme Judicial Council is needed to enhance the Council's transparency and integrity and as an important step towards a fundamental reform of the judicial system. The proposed article 103 provides opportunity for the members of the council to participate in the nomination or directly in the appointment of the Chief Prosecutor. In view of the vicious procedure of their appointment and the hesitant performance of the current SJC such amendments are unacceptable and lead to perceptions of exerting improper influence. Therefore the NGOs strongly appeal that such proposals do not receive support by the public. To the full text of the letter (BG version) 

05/18/2012 BILI prepared the First Profile of a Constitutional Court Judge Nominee

With her full support and cooperation, BILI prepared the profile of judge Keti Markova (currently at the Supreme Court of Cassation), nominated by the President of the Republic of Bulgaria for the position of a judge at the Bulgarian Constitutional Court.
Keti Markova is a judge with over 25 years experience on the bench. Her length of service has passed only in the judiciary. In her actual position at the Supreme Court of Cassation she is reviewing penal cases as a member of 3rd Penal Panel of the court. BILI prepared also a specific questionnaire with questions related to the role and importance of the Constitutional Court. Judge Markova reacted in a positive way to it and answered to all questions. The filled in questionnaire is included in the profile. To the full profile of judge Keti Markova.

05/03/2012 The Official statement of BILI on new amendments in the Judicial System Act

BILI announced its position on the draft law for amendment and supplementation of the Judicial system act (JSA), which was approved by the Council of ministers and entered the National Assembly on 06.04.2012. The Statement was put to the attention of all members of the parliamentary Legal committee, the leaders of political formations and to Mrs. Tsetska Tsacheva, Chair of the Parliament. Although BILI indicated its principal support to the proposed amendments, it underlined the need for additional improvements in order to achieve the set of the proposals primary goals. The current legislative change is estimated as insufficient because of the fact that it introduces only new procedures for election of the Supreme judicial council (SJC) while it is also necessary to introduce changes at a structural level in its formation. In its statement BILI strongly disapproves the proposed opportunity for career advancement of the SJC members after the end of their mandate which may become a way to circumvent the judicial competitions and appraisals. BILIs initial legislative proposal, supported by 11 non-governmental organisations also provided for direct election of the professional quota by the general assemblies of judges with an opportunity for electronic voting. For the parliamentary quota it envisaged guarantees for a sufficient period of investigation of the candidates professional qualities by the Legal committee. To the full text of the Statement BG version

03/26/2012 Thomas Hammamberg: Independence of the judiciary must be protected*

photo: Bengt Oberger

from Thomas Hammerberg, Commissioner from Human Rights. Published in the Council of Europe Commissioner's Human Rights comments

Outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered Russia’s Prosecutor General to verify the legality of the conviction of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former head of the oil company Yukos. Cases relating to co-accused Platon Lebedev and 30 others would also be assessed. Though the deadline set for the review is strikingly short, the initiative may create an opening for a long-awaited discussion about politicised trials.

Khodorkovsky would now have been eligible for parole on an initial conviction from 2005 on charges of tax evasion. However, he was tried again in 2010 on new charges and sentenced to another six-year prison term. Serious questions were raised in human rights circles - in Russia and abroad - about the length of the sentence as well as the fairness of the trial itself: whether guilt was proven and whether this was not another trial on the same substance.

Further questions were raised by the fact that the Prime Minister at the time, Vladimir Putin, made no secret of his negative opinions about Khodorkovsky while the trial process was ongoing. He publicly stated that “a thief should sit in jail” in an obvious reference to the case against the former Yukos chairman.

This and other political interventions are not unique. In a recent report on the justice system in Ukraine, I had to conclude that judges in that country are still not shielded from outside pressure, including of a political nature. The report urged the authorities to look into any allegations of improper political or other influence or interference in the work of the judicial institutions and to ensure effective remedies.

The detention and trials of former government officials in Ukraine, including Yulia Tymoshenko, Valeriy Ivashchenko and Yuriy Lutsenko, have raised serious concerns about the fairness and impartiality of the proceedings.

Widespread problem of undue political pressure

In other cases, pressure on judges has been more discreet. I have received information on so-called “telephone justice” in a number of instances - that judges have been secretly approached by the offices of government leaders and told how they should decide in sensitive cases.
Sometimes there is no need for direct instructions; the judges know already how they are expected to act. They have been made aware of the consequences for their own careers if they choose to ignore such expectations.
These practices are not easy to pin down in ordinary human rights reporting. My own awareness of these phenomena has developed through confidential conversations, not least with active or retired judges in several countries. I have become convinced that this is a serious and fairly widespread problem.
Undue political influence and lack of independence of judges tend to be particularly acute in the “transition” countries in Central and Eastern Europe, where judges under the communist system were supposed to serve the interests of the political regime - and these habits are more persistent than one would hope. However, I have also noticed that the principle of the independence of the judiciary is not fully protected even in other European countries. 

Independence of the judiciary must be protected

The independence of judges should be enshrined in the constitution or at the highest possible legal level. The structural arrangements foreseen by those fundamental laws should demonstrate a clear division of authority between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Of course governmental and parliamentary authorities have a responsibility to set up an effective justice system - itself ruled by law - but they should abstain from meddling in individual cases which are in the hands of the judiciary.
Indeed, there is a need for governments to take pro-active measures to safeguard the judiciary from undue interference. I made this recommendation to the authorities in Georgia in a report issued last year. Steps are needed in this country to effectively protect the individual independence of judges. One problem there, as in several other countries, is the dominant position of the prosecutor in the criminal justice system.
Problems relating to the independence and impartiality of the judiciary have also undermined the credibility of the justice system in Turkey. The ongoing reform there needs to be thorough and tackle the state-centred attitudes among some judges and prosecutors.

Judges should not have to fear

We have learned that the procedures for appointing and promoting judges are key in the protection of the independence of the judiciary. A retrogressive step taken recently in Hungary is therefore of particular concern: the parliament adopted a procedure leaving such decisions to be taken by a single, politically appointed individual.
Appointments and promotions of judges should rest with an independent and impartial structure – and should be seen to do so. Decisions should be based on objective criteria focused on professional merits and qualifications.
Another essential principle is that judges should have security of tenure until a mandatory retirement age - and even more crucially – that they should not have to fear dismissal for rulings which may not please those who are in power.
Political leaders must accept that the court room is not a political arena.

02/17/2012 William R. Brownfield: Congratiolations on!


On February 17, 2012, U.S. Department of State Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William R. Brownfield took part in a press conference organized by BILI to announce the launch of  the TJAI website.  Brownfield commented that the solution to the challenges we are facing is for the government and society to work together by creating strong law enforcement and strong judiciary to adjudicate crimes in the community. He noted that the Bulgarian Institute for Legal Initiatives stands for a very important principle – transparency, and pointed out that every branch of government in any country in the world - executive, legislative, or judicial is better if it is transparent.  A/S Brownfield said that he is proud of the American support and American association with BILI’s Transparent Judicial Appointments Initiative. Mr Brownfield congratulated Ms Bilyana Wegertseder for the good work on the TJAI. She pointed out that this is an innovative project, based on time-tested international methodology and examples, but adapted to the Bulgarian legal context, institutional environment and culture, aimed at the increase of  judiciary independence and improvement of the career procedures via transparency and more civic participation.  

01/25/2012 SJC press centre: BILI launched a project on monitoring of Random case assignment

The SJC will provide assistance to BILI and the US Embassy in Bulgaria in the realization of a monitoring project on the observation and electronic administration of the random case assignment principle (RCA) in the Supreme Administrative court, the Supreme Court of Cassation and Sofia City Court.
The discussion was conducted during the regular session of the SJC Committee on Professional qualification, IT and statistics (the IT Committee) on 24.01.2012 in the presence of its chair Mrs. Radka Petrova.
Mrs. Bilyana Gyaurova was invited to present a summary describing the project which stipulated as its primary objective the strengthening of external control over the RCA software and administration in respect to the latest recommendations of the European Commission on the CVM (the Cooperation and verification mechanism). Mrs. Radka Petrova confirmed that the SJC will fully cooperate to the project implementation and will take a decision sending instructions to the administrative leaders of the courts to indicate the judicial officers who will provide BILI with technical assistance during the project. A one-week visit of Mrs. Sheril Loesch, an expert on case management and assignment from the USA, is organized and scheduled for March as part of the project. She will be asked to prepare a detailed report providing clarification and guidance on the persisting irregularities and will be addressed at improving and supplementing the objectives already set as part of the current IT strategy of the judiciary adopted by the SJC.

01/17/2012 Catherine Day: Judicial appraisals, appointments and elections "will be carefully examined by the European Commission"

The Secretary General of the European Commission, Ms Catherine Day, expressed appreciation to BILI and the other non-governmental organisations for their initiative and the letter sent on December 19, 2011 regarding the recent nominations of judicial inspectors at the Inspectorate to the Supreme Judicial Council. Catherine Day stated that the way appraisals, appointments and elections within the judiciary are carried out is of direct relevance to the Commission's assessment of progress in judicial reform in Bulgaria under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism. "It is indeed important thatsuch senior appointments satisfy the highest standards of transparency and objectivity inorder to inspire public confidence into the Bulgarian judiciary.", writes Catherine Day. To the full text of the letter. 

12/27/2011 BILI filed a Letter to the Parliamentary Committee of Legal Affairs for the Upcoming Election of Inspectors at the Inspectorate to the Supreme Judicial Council 

Nominations of the candidates were announced literally hours before the upcoming hearing, including in violation of the deadline (December 9, 2011) set by the Committee itself. These circumstances made it impossible for BILI to prepare profiles of the candidates and deprived the public (especially the magistrate community) from the opportunity to familiarize with the nominees, respectively to ask questions and receive answers. This approach of the Committee of Legal Affairs impugn strong doubt in the future work of the Inspectorate as an institution, which by law shall base its activity on the principles of legality, objectivity and publicity.
The strong resistance of the non-governmental sector against the procedure of appointment of Inspectors in the ISJC reached the European Commission on December 19, 2011 in the form of a widely supported Open Letter addressed to the President of the National Assembly Mrs. Tsacheva, the Prime-minister of Bulgaria Mr. B.Borisov and the Secretary-general of the European Commission accompanied by findings and recommendations to immediately correct the process. Subsequently, the continuous polemics related to the procedure for election of inspectors for the Inspectorate at the Supreme Judicial Council (ISJC) from the Parliament, engaged 12 NGOs once again in a new Open letter from December 27, 2011 to remind of the essence of the position stated in the previous one and further developed by the Union of Judges in Bulgaria in their letter from December 20, 2011. The fact that the election for ISJC caused such public reaction and response from the European Commission, led to a belated withdrawal of nominations and inspectors elected, is only a symptom of the systematic viciousness of the procedure, applied by the Parliament. It roots in the shortcomings in the Judicial System Act, it can be seen in the way this election was carried out and it culminated in the current lack of legitimacy of yet another body within the judicial power. The election of the two members of the SJC from the parliamentary quota, which happened in July 2011, was carried out in exactly the same way as the current one, a fact, which simply confirms the conclusions stated in the previous open letter.