New row erupts over Bulgaria's flawed judicial reforms

New row erupts over Bulgaria's flawed judicial reforms
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia September 14, 2017

Five political parties, judges and lawyers have sent open letters to Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev, urging him to veto the selection of new head of the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC), claiming that the procedure was not transparent and the choice has been pre-selected by the ruling party.

This is yet another scandal related to the reform of the judicial system this summer after in late July and early August magistrates and political parties strongly objected to controversial reforms of two laws that are part of the ongoing judicial reforms in the country. Parties, civil society and the organisation of magistrates asked the president to veto amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code and the Judicial System Act, however he allowed them to enter into force.

Now the same five opposition parties - Yes, Bulgaria!, the right-wing Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB), the Movement for European Union and Solidarity (DEOS), The Greens and the Agrarian People's Union (BZNS) - as well as lawyers and the Union of Judges in Bulgaria have sent three open letters to Radev, asking him to block the election of Georgi Cholakov as the new chairman of the SAC.

“The election procedure was carried out in a way that left serious doubts about political interference, unregulated influence and prosecutorial expedience in the election of the chairman of the court, which should protect the rights and legitimate interests of citizens from possible arbitrary arbitrariness,” the Union of Judges said in the open letter.

It added that the election of Cholakov, who was nominated by the SAC’s current chairman, has left serious doubt about external influence and was result of a flawed procedure.

“Obviously it [the procedure] aimed to allow this highly dependant and already quite compromised in terms of authority composition of the Supreme Judicial Council to vote in order to guarantee the election of the “right candidate” for the influential figures in it,” the letter also noted.

The political parties also claimed that the election of Cholakov has been compromised and indicates that SAC not only will not undertake any reforms, but will continue tolerating corruption.

Bulgaria has been strongly criticised by the European Union for the lack of reform of its judicial system. 

The political parties also claim that the other candidate for the post – Sonya Yankulova – would gain if the law was respected as she has significantly longer experience. On the other hand, the nomination of Cholakov has been promoted for months.

“All this means that the decision was not taken in the plenary hall of the SJC, but elsewhere and was not made according to the requirements of the law. This is precisely what has been called a backstage ruling,” the parties said in the letter published on the website of Yes, Bulgaria!.

President Radev was quoted by Dnevnik daily as saying that he is considering whether to stop the election of Cholakov.