BJA standpoints

The Bulgarian Judges Association is following with particular concern and worry what is happening to our colleagues in Turkey. Within the framework of the international cooperation between judicial organizations, we were informed that the 2745 Turkish judges and prosecutors that were removed from office yesterday are now expecting to be held in custody. We express our strong confidence that these colleagues could not participate in any subversive activities against democracy and law. We hereby state our irreconcilability to all forms of violent impact and declare our firm opinion that the fight against such actions should not include sacrificing the freedom and security of our colleagues - judges and public prosecutors.

The Managing Board of the Bulgarian Judges Association
"DEAR SIRS
 
This is to bring your attention to the latest developments in Bulgaria’s progress under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism and the implementation of the measures outlined in a series of CVM reports.
 
Following the country’s accession to the European Union in 2007, a mechanism to monitor progress in the area of Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) and the fight against corruption and organised crime was put in place. Its goals, inter alia, were to facilitate the process of reporting to EU institutions on the state-of-play and developments in these areas and consulting the Bulgarian authorities on the necessary actions to be taken to implement the recommendations received with a view to achieving the desired results. The eight consecutive annual reports drawn up since the CVM was first put in place leave a lasting impression of a permanent lack of efficiency in tackling problems in critical areas, despite multiple amendments to legislation.
 
The updated Strategy for continued reform of the judiciary adopted in the autumn of 2014 was a condition precedent for the Commission’s trust in Bulgaria as stated in the CVM Report dated 28 January 2015 . Despite expectations that the declared position and intentions of the national authorities would translate into concrete actions with a foreseeable result, in 2015 no progress was achieved..."
 
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Dear Bulgarian citizens,
    
    The Bulgarian Judges Association is addressing you directly for the first time. The ongoing series of statements which we have been sending to various competent institutions have not led to significant results. We have been making such statements in regard to scandalous judicial appointments, we have been calling for vital oversight because of the suspicion of management and corruption, and we have been highlighting the behavior of certain magistrates that raises ethical questions.
    We have been constantly pointing out repeated scandals that undermine the credibility of the judicial authorities, and which underline the necessity of a deep and determining reform. This year, for the first time in years, specific proposals for a positive and lasting change were placed into a Parliamentary constitutional reform process which was transparent for all of society to see. The claims that these proposals would not lead to an improvement of the judicial system, and thus to an increase in the feeling for justice of the citizens, are not true. The quality of judging depends on the qualities of the people working in the system. Therefore and quite logically, the most significant thing is the oversight of the judicial authority itself – because it is this authority that determines what kind of people, and with which professional qualities, will be selected to go into the judicial system, and which of them will then be promoted and appointed to senior management positions.  
    One of the most important of these proposals – which guaranteed true responsibility and accountability to society, rather than the chronic absence of such oversight, and which provided a real chance for an honest and truly independent judiciary – was rejected with the Decision of the National Assembly in it’s final reform vote yesterday on 09.12.2015.
     It is important to make clear exactly what happened on that day and how it affects every single citizen of Bulgaria. The long-awaited changes that were in the draft for constitutional amendment, and which were supported by the large majority, were instead replaced with ‘accepted corrections’ which will not result in a real change; will not give any guarantees for the rule of the law and the independence of judges; and will not eliminate the widely suspected dependencies within the judicial system...
 
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"... it is important to reiterate that the three-day time period for candidate nomination envisaged in the procedural rules, particularly when coinciding with the Christmas and New Year holiday period, creates an impression of opaqueness. Furthermore, even if discussions between the political parties represented in Parliament had taken place on the need to reform the Inspection Service of the judiciary and on the particularly high professional standards, which the selected nominee must satisfy given the nature of the high judicial office, the debate surrounding the selection process has yet again remained outside public scrutiny..."

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"Members of the Supreme Judicial Council,

By this letter we would like to share our concern over your failure to adequately address issues of high relevance to the professional community of magistrates and to society in general, i.e. the independence of the judiciary and the authority and respect its members command in society. We have repeatedly put forth for consideration specific measures, which we consider imperative, if trust in the judiciary is to be restored, notably by protecting court independence from political pressure, the influence of economic and power lobbies and various mechanisms for unlawful administrative intervention that are deeply rooted in the system, including the low level of tolerance for conflict of interest and trading in influence..."

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"We are writing to support the proposed Resolution on Bulgaria and, in particular, continuation of the post-monitoring dialogue.
 
We represent a group of the leading Rule of Law and Human Rights NGOs in Bulgaria, and based on our work we would like to share our assessment of the progress of the judicial reform in our country.  In what follows, we would like to briefly substantiate our conclusions that:
•the principal challenge faced by the Bulgarian judicial branch is that its independence continues to be seriously undermined;
•the key factor eroding judicial independence has been pressure by the government and political and economic vested interests;
•fundamental structural reforms are needed to eliminate the institutional basis for corruption and political and economic pressure;
•sustainable reforms in Bulgaria can only be ensured by international involvement.
 
We believe that these conclusions provide a strong argument in favor of the concerns and the recommendations of the draft Resolution, as well as for preserving the post-monitoring dialogue as a means of ensuring that they will be addressed by Bulgarian authorities...."
 
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On 20 December 2012 we witnessed an unprecedented act of interference on the part of a Cabinet minister in the procedure for the appointment of an incumbent of a high judicial office. That act subverted the procedure for the election of a Prosecutor General of the Republic of Bulgaria because the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) submitted a proposal to the President of the Republic for the appointment of one of the nominees in flagrant breach of the national Constitution. The intolerable interference on the part of the Minister of Justice in the established procedure, which purportedly intended to allow all three nominations for Prosecutor General to be put to the vote, came immediately after the publication of the Draft Resolution of the rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to be adopted at the winter plenary session, which will take place in Strasbourg between 21 and 25 January 2013 (see http://www.assembly.coe.int/Communication/14122012_BulgariaDraftRes_EN.pdf). 
 
The draft resolution provides for continuation of the existing post-monitoring arrangements to ensure Bulgaria honours its obligations and commitments as a Member State of the Council of Europe and achieves compliance with democratic standards, pluralism, rule of law and respect for human rights. It lays an emphasis on the objective necessity to ensure and safeguard the independence of the judiciary, including through refraining from any pressure on it (paragraph 17.1). A recommendation is also made to review the role of the Minister of Justice in the Supreme Judicial Council (paragraph 17.2). 
 
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"Following the failure of Mrs. Veneta Markovska to take an oath of office as a justice of the Constitutional Court on 15 November 2012, her status in the judiciary and the public outcry over information disclosed by the media in the wake of the endorsement of her nomination by Parliament, require you – acting in the capacity of supreme body responsible for career development in the judiciary – to address the consequences of the conflict that pertains to the very foundation of Statehood with sound reason and wisdom. This means that you have a duty to carry out a check to verify the disconcerting information published in the press on account of its relevance to a host of issues that are considerably broader in scope than the allegations that sparked the latest crisis of mistrust in the independence of the judiciary..."

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