Bulgaria Amends Constitution Seeking Judiciary Overhaul

  • Lawmakers vote 189 to 39 to approve changes in final vote
  • Amendments fail to ensure judges' independence, analyst says

Bulgaria’s parliament adopted constitutional amendments that sought to overhaul the judiciary, falling short of ensuring judicial independence and efficiency.

Lawmakers voted 189 to 39 with one abstention to support a proposal envisaging the division of the Supreme Judicial Council, which oversees the judiciary, into two chambers - one for judges and another for prosecutors, Speaker Tsetska Tsacheva said in Sofia on Wednesday. The motion is final, confirming a preceding vote a week ago when Justice Minister Hristo Ivanov resigned after lawmakers rejected an article intended to curb the chief prosecutor’s powers.

“The Council will remain far from the established European standards for independence of the court” as the judges appointed to the Council by the judiciary have no majority over those appointed by parliament, Ivanka Ivanova, a program director at the Open Society Institute in Sofia, said by e-mail. “The amendments also provide no solution to the problem with the inefficiency of the penal proceedings.”

The Balkan country seeks to overcome corruption in the judiciary and the security services, following repeated European Union calls to curb graft among high-profile public figures. Bulgaria and Romania, which entered the now 28-nation bloc in 2007, have received many warnings to fight corruption harder to ensure a fair distribution of EU aid. While Romania has already made “impressive” progress, Bulgarian policy changes have stalled amid political turmoil, the EU said in a report in January.

The amendments, which give more powers to the Council’s inspectorate, in charge of internal investigations, are “a big step in the right direction,” Ivanova said.

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