This article is from the Bulgaria FAQ, by Dragomir R. Radev email@example.com with numerous contributions by others.
Under the Constitution the judiciary is granted independent and coequal
status with the legislature and executive branch. However, most
observers agreed that the judiciary continued to struggle with problems
such as low salaries, understaffing, and a heavy backlog of cases.
Partly as a legacy of communism and partly because of the court system's
structural and personnel problems, most citizens have little confidence
in their judicial system. Human rights groups complain that local
prosecutors and magistrates sometimes fail to pursue vigorously crimes
committed against minorities.
The court system consists of regional courts, district courts, and the
Supreme and Constitutional Courts. The Government has not yet carried
out several of the reforms provided for in the June 1994 judicial Reform
Bill, including the establishment of separate supreme courts of
cassation (civil and criminal appeal) and administration. Judges are
appointed by a 25-member Supreme Judicial Council and, after serving for
3 years, may not be replaced except under limited, specified
circumstances. The 12 justices on the Constitutional Court are chosen
for 9-year terms as follows: a third are elected by the National
Assembly, a third appointed by the President, and a third elected by
The Constitution stipulates that all courts shall conduct hearings in
public unless the proceedings involve state security or state secrets.
There were no reported complaints about limited access to courtroom
proceedings. Defendants have the right to know the charges against them
and are given ample time to prepare a defense. The right of appeal is
guaranteed and widely used. Defendants in criminal proceedings have the
right to confront witnesses and to have an attorney, provided by the
State if necessary, in serious cases.
The Constitutional Court is empowered to rescind legislation it
considers unconstitutional, settle disputes over the conduct of general
elections, and resolve conflicts over the division of powers between the
various branches of government. Military courts handle cases involving
military personnel and some cases involving national security matters.
The Constitutional Court does not have specific jurisdiction in matters
of military justice.
A number of criminal cases against former leaders for alleged abuses
during the Communist period were carried forward. Former dictator Todor
Zhivkov is serving a 7-year sentence under house arrest for abuse of
power involving personal expense accounts and state privileges. Legal
review of his case continues; the most recent step was a Supreme Court
hearing on September 15. Although the investigation continues, there
was little progress in the case in which 43 former high-level Communists
were indicted in 1994 for having given grant aid during the 1980's to
then-friendly governments in the developing world such as Cuba, Angola,
and Libya. Investigation also continues in a case begun in 1993
involving a charge of embezzlement for giving grant aid to Communist
parties in other countries (the "Moscow case"), with no tangible
progress. Some human rights observers criticized these and previous
indictments, asserting that the activities in question were political
and economic in nature, not criminal.
One of the primary figures in these cases, former Prime Minister and
once senior Communist official Andrei Lukanov, brought a complaint
against these proceedings to the European Commission of Human Rights.
Acting on his petition in January, the Commission ruled that Lukanov's
appeal of the procedure by which he was stripped of parliamentary
immunity was admissible before the Commission, but has not yet issued a
decision on the merits of the case. Lukanov's appeals under two other
articles of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights
and Fundamental Freedoms were not admitted.
There was no progress in a case begun in 1993 relating to the forced
assimilation and expulsion of ethnic Turks in 1984-85 and 1989, nor in a
trial relating to the notorious death camps set up by the Communists
after they came to power in 1944. Police authorities concluded their
investigation of the 1994 murder of a key witness in the latter case in
February without definite result.
In one of its first acts, the new Socialist-dominated Parliament
repealed a controversial 1992 lustration act ("Law for Additional
Requirements Toward Scientific Organizations and the Higher Certifying
Commission"), known as the "Panev Law."
The law had barred former secretaries and members of Communist party
committees from positions as academic council members, university
department heads, deans, rectors, and chief editors of science
magazines, applying a presumption of guilt that conflicts with
international human rights standards.
There were no reports of political prisoners.