The European Commission has published its fifth progress reports for Bulgaria and Romania under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) for 2011. The reports monitor the progress of the two Member States on progress with judicial reform, the fight against corruption and, concerning Bulgaria, the fight against organized crime.
The report on Bulgaria notes that Bulgaria has strengthened the Supreme Judicial Council and improved rules for the appointment, professional training, appraisals and promotions of judges. Several organised crime and corruption cases have reached verdicts in court. At the same time, an increased number of indictments in cases related to organised crime and fraud with EU funds have been achieved. The report notes that the leadership of the Bulgarian judiciary has yet to show a real commitment to thorough judicial reform as slow progress is not just the result of shortcomings in judicial practice and in the Penal Code. Again and again the Commission points out that judicial appointments still lack the necessary level of transparency and credibility. The report also notes that there is a lack of consistent disciplinary practice in the judiciary. The Commission sees weaknesses in the collection of evidence, the protection of witnesses as well as in investigative strategies, comprehensive financial investigations and the securing of assets. The Commission recommends that coordination within the prosecution and between the prosecution and the police should be improved. The most important recommendation of the Commission is to establish proposals for a reform of the Supreme Judicial Council, the Supreme Cassation Prosecution Office and the Prosecution in general regarding structures, legal attributions, composition, appointments and internal organization.
The report on Romania points to the significant steps Romania took since the last annual report of July 2010. Romania improved judicial efficiency, re-established the legal basis of the National Integrity Agency, continued preparations for the implementation of the four new codes, launched preparations for a functional review of the judicial system and carried out an impact analysis of its anti-corruption policy. At the same time, the report also notes that consistency and results in a number of areas remain a challenge and that progress in the fight against corruption still needs to be pursued. The report concludes that Romania needs to take urgent action to accelerate high-level corruption trials and to prevent their prescription due to expiry of statute-barred periods. The fight against corruption should remain a top priority, with support from Parliament, and urgent measures should be taken to improve the recovery of proceeds of crime, the pursuit of money laundering and the protection against conflict of interest in the management of public funds.
Posted in Enlargement, Institutional Affairs, Justice and Internal Affairs
Tagged Bulgaria, Bulgarian Judiciary, Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council, Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, Corruption, organized crime, police, prosecution, Romania
There is an ongoing crackdown on organized crime in Bulgaria. This should be good news. But the prosecution will have to prove allegations in court. The benchmark is judgments with res judicata.
There’s also the Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council that refused to sack high-ranking magistrates that have been in contact with the infamous Krasimir Georgiev-Krasio. The benchmark here is called implementation of the code of conduct, or its lack thereof.
Both benchmarks are important. Both benchmarks are NOT yet reached.
There were accusations of corruption and trade in official posts in the Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council (SJC). Resigning seemed the most natural thing to do for at least two members of the SJC. Not in Bulgaria.
Now one of the alleged members – Ivan Dimov, has said that he will not resign. He says that his name and professional honor have been subjected to an absurd and baseless discrimination over a few private phone calls.
Few private phone calls indeed. Few private discussions. Few private transactions. What is there to resign for?
Three members of the Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council – Stoyko Stoev, Ivan Dimov and Plamen Stoilov, have been accused in corruption and trade in official posts in the Bulgarian judiciary system.
Members of the formers Bulgarian king Simeon’s party also seem involved in the case.
These are the facts. Now I would like to know – what is the remedy? How exactly are we supposed to fight corruption in the judiciary when no less than three members of the Supreme Judicial Council have been allegedly involved in wrongdoing?
To put this in perspective – the SJC consist of 25 members; most decisions are taken with simple majority. The SJC is responsible for all appointment and career development decisions in the Bulgarian judiciary system.
The European Commission has published its regular annual reports under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism for Bulgaria and Romania.
The report for Bulgaria includes an assessment on meeting the indicative benchmarks for justice and home affairs since its last full report (23 July 2008). It also makes recommendations to Bulgaria based on this assessment.
The report says that there is “a change in attitude and a more open and frank dialogue at all levels with the Bulgarian authorities”.
In more specific points, the report finds that:
- The establishment of a permanent Joint Team for the Suppression of Offenses against the EU Financial System is an excellent initiative;
- Killings linked with organized crime continue and known criminals are not apprehended;
- Organizational overlaps continue in the new structure of the Ministry of Internal Affairs which has not yet led to increased effectiveness in the investigation of serious crime;
- Delays in criminal cases are largely caused by the extreme formality of the criminal procedure, a certain passivity of the bench and the seemingly limitless possibilities offered by the criminal procedure law to defendants to stall the proceedings;
- The Inspectorate to the Supreme Judicial Council has become fully operational and has achieved an encouraging track record in the investigation of disciplinary violations and of systemic weaknesses of judicial practice;
- There is a need for a more pro-active approach for fighting corruption in vulnerable areas and sectors such as health or education.
On the question of possible invocation of the safeguard clause, the Commission concludes that this is not necessary. According to the report:
“The kind of deep seated changes that are needed can only come from within Bulgarian society. The CVM is a support tool in this endeavour; it is not an end in itself nor can it replace commitment that Bulgarian authorities need to make in order to align the judicial system and practice with general EU standards.”
Posted in Bulgaria, Enlargement, Institutional Affairs, Justice and Internal Affairs
Tagged Bulgaria, Bulgarian Judiciary, Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council, Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, Corruption, indicative benchmarks, organized crime, recommendations, regular report, Romania, safeguard clause
Two events have further shaken my confidence in the Bulgarian judiciary system.
First, the case for the murder of Bulgarian student Stoyan Baltov was referred yesterday by the Sofia City Court back to the prosecution for further investigation because the rights of the defendants have been “breached”. One of the suspected killers, Vili Georgiev, was freed from jail and put under house arrest.
Stoyan Baltov was beaten to death in front of a disco club in December 2008. The students’ protests in January 2009 against this deplorable murder were brutally dispersed by police force. I happened to participate in the protests and my account of the events is available here.
In another move, the Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council has given excellent marks for the professional attestation of Nelly Batanova – the judge that acquitted the murderers of Martin Borilski. Martin Borilski was a Bulgarian student in Paris who was killed there in 2001. The French authorities carried out an investigation and provided all materials to the Bulgarian prosecution.
However, two courts in Bulgaria consecutively found the murderers not guilty, including the court chamber under the presidency of Mrs. Batanova. Now the Paris Appellate Court has ordered a new trial to begin in France against the same suspects.
I fail to understand these developments.