Bulgaria MPs Approve Changes to Judicial System

Lawmakers have approved on a second reading legislative amendments that the government argues are paving the way for a major reform in the judicial system.

MPs have agreed to split the Supreme Judicial Council (VSS) into two colleges, one for judges and the other for prosecutors.

Separately, a “plenary” is set up to ensure there is VSS configuration bringing together all of the council’s members.

The VSS is the top decisionmaking body of the judiciary (sometimes referred to as its “government”) which is in charge of issues such as key appointments to or dismissals from the system, salaries, and disciplinary action.

It also brings together the Justice Minister (who is not a VSS member but has the right to preside over the meetings) with the most important representatives of the system, namely Bulgaria’s Chief Prosecutor, the head of the Supreme Administrative Court (VAS), and the Supreme Court of Cassation (VKS).

Changes have been made to the quotas at the respective colleges, with the 14 judges including the VAS an VKS chairs, six judges elected by their colleagues, and six appointed by Parliament.

The prosecutors’ college, on the other hand, will include th Chief Prosecutor, four members directly elected by other prosecutors, one by investigators, and five by Parliament.

Changes to the VSS have been described as a key step toward the creation of a working judicial system, according to former Justice Minister Hristo Ivanov who oversaw the process of agreeing on constitutional and legislative amendments last year.

Ivanov, however, stepped down in December after some of his proposals for changes to the constitution – especially ones concerning VSS quotas – were rejected by lawmakers.

His successor Ekaterina Zaharieva and junior government partner Reformist Bloc maintain the reform is crucial if Bulgaria is to have an efficient judiciary in line with EU standards.

The VSS will also have to make its sessions public, alowing their live broadcast, and adopting an open voting procedure, instead of the secret voting rules applied up to date.

A separate decision adopted on Thursday, proposed by some of the governing parties, foresees that all VSS members will receive the same salaries as the Chief Prosecutor and the two top judges who are part of the VSS.

Currently, VSS members receive BGN 4367 (EUR approximately EUR 2236), slightly below the Prime Minister whose wage in recent months has been BGN 4473.

The new basic wage of VSS members (BGN 4011), combined with annually increased remuneration for the number of years in office, if further approved, will result in a monthly salary of up to BGN 6900.

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