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Bulgarian Judges Want 'Flawed' Supreme Judicial Council Dissolved.

The Union of Judges in Bulgaria has insisted that the Supreme Judicial Council (VSS) be disbanded, calling for a structural reorganization and a major reshuffle at the legal entity.

UJB's claims were listed Wednesday in an address to VSS, Justice Minister Margarita Popova, Parliament Speaker Tsetska Tsacheva and Iskra Fidosova, Chair of the Parliamentary Legal Committee.

The step marks a new stage in the scandal plaguing Bulgaria's judiciary after the resignations of VSS members Kapka Kostova and Galina Zaharova and judges Dushana Zdravkova and Velichka Tzanova and the allegations of conflict of interest surrounding the newly appointed Chair of the Sofia City Court (SCC) Vladimira Yaneva.

VSS's response so far has been to initiate a partial check into Yaneva's affair with municipal firm Sofiyski Imoti and a statement blaming former SCC Chair Velichka Tsanova for the misleading information about VSS' progress submitted to the European Commission.

While UJB admits that Bulgarian law does not provide for a procedure for recalling VSS members, it asserts that the existing emergency situation in the judiciary can only be resolved through radical measures.

According to UJB's condemnatory remarks, "the current unprincipled staff policy practiced by the VSS will stay, eroding the independence of the judicial system from within and raising a question mark over the rule of law."

According to the organization, which includes over 1000 magistrates, the unjustifiable appointments made by VSS threaten to fully discredit Bulgaria's judiciary.

In their words, the lack of public confidence will have an impact on each new selection process, regardless of the true merits of the winner.

The ongoing crisis of confidence deprives citizens of their faith in the efficiency and objectivity of the judiciary, UJB emphasizes, urging the senior magistrates to use the predicament as an opportunity to solve long-delayed problems.

"We call on Mrs Popova to launch consultations and form a working group of highly skilled specialists to amend the principles of formation and functioning of VSS in line with the recommendations of the institutions within the Council of Europe, Bulgarian civil society organizations and the Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE)", UJB states.

Among UJB's reform proposals are the establishment of a judicial council for judges only, which would be tasked with their appointment, promotion, and dismissal; the reduction of the total number of VSS members, who would have a 3-year term in office, instead of the current 5-year tenure; a decrease in the parliamentary quota in VSS to 1/3 of its total headcount; downsizing the mandatory years of experience for magistrates eligible for VSS membership to 12 years; a provision stipulating that VSS members retain their jobs while on the council in a bid to stay close to the problems of Bulgarian society.

The letter emphasizes that the existing VSS has never defended the judiciary as a whole, or separate judges, from the accusations leveled by members of the executive branch of government.

"It has failed to carry out its activities in an objective and transparent manner so as to ensure the independence of the judiciary from the other two branches and of the widely publicized accusations of hidden economic, political, crony, etc. influences", the letter claims.

According to UJB, the most urgent reforms that the parliament could adopt within shortest terms are the division of VSS into two structures, one for judges and one for prosecutors, which would decide staff and disciplinary issues; the introduction of a requirement that VSS provide well-substantiated explanations for its staff policy and the introduction of a centralized promotion process based on the results of an exhaustive and in-depth assessment process.
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Publication:Sofia News Agency
Geographic Code:4EXBU
Date:Jun 15, 2011
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