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There is a distinct body of opinion among the general public in Bulgaria that the judicial system is slow and ineffective. It receives a low measure of trust both from the public at large and from other state institutions. This is to a great extent warranted. The process of dispensing justice in Bulgaria is still marked by serious shortcomings: courts are overburdened with work and take a long time to deliver their judgments; a shortage of qualified judges , the complexity of legal procedures and a plethora of new rules to be applied all contribute to this situation. It is particularly serious where penalties and sentencing are concerned, as a number of procedures are not fully completed.

One of the main reasons behind this is the yet incomplete reform process in the judiciary. The need to reform the system is now acknowledged by a large number of the magistrates.

Among the multitude of reasons for making judicial reform a priority and, in particular, for launching the Judicial Reform Initiative the following stand out:

1.1. Inadequate legal framework

The existing legal framework for the judiciary, despite all positive changes, is still too contradictory and partly obsolete and inadequate. Its shortcomings of the existing legislation are particularly well exploited by those involved in corrupt practices. Changes are needed in order to establish clear-cut rules in penal, commercial, civil, and administrative legal relations and, in turn, to faster, more efficient and more transparent administration of justice.

The current system for criminal prosecution is slow, cumbersome, and inefficient. The crimes and punishments provided for in the Penal Code and the Penal Procedure Code do not adequately reflect present conditions of market economy and rampant crime, including economic crime. In the past years there have been many legislative changes aimed at updating the Penal Code and procedure, but rather than being guided by a comprehensive new vision, they have been implemented in a piecemeal approach.

The existing legal framework of civil relations opens opportunities for corruption. The task of civil law is the equitable regulation of relations among individual citizens as well as between citizens and the state. This branch of legislation does not have an immediate bearing on corruption but because of its many shortcomings it creates conditions favoring the its unrestrained proliferation.

1.2. Imperfections of the legislative process

In addition to the lack of an adequate legal framework its functioning, the judiciary is burdened by the existing imperfections of the legislative process and of approximation of legislation in Bulgaria. The issues concerning policy making (legislative priorities setting) with respect to law drafting is one of the weak points in the Bulgarian regulation of this process. These issues are not covered explicitly by existing legislation and most often law-drafters have to rely upon their own understanding of the policy objectives.

There is no established law-drafting procedure ensuring the quality of the proposed legislation. Specifically, the main bottle-necks in the legislative process and approximation of legislation mechanism are:

  • The Government has no formal rights to comment on legislation introduced by Members of Parliament. Therefore all the "verification" and checks, performed by the executive power, are not applicable in this case, including the verification for conformity with EU legislation. The Parliament relies on its own Legal Department, which is understaffed to perform such functions, and staff lawyers or, when necessary, documents or testimony form Government officials.
  • There is no ownership of the law-drafting process. The responsibility of the law-drafters ends with the submission of the draft to the Council of Ministers, accompanied by a Certificate of compliance with EU law (issued by the drafting ministry). Once the draft is forwarded to the Parliament it is out of the hands of the law-drafters.
  • The judiciary are not part of a transparent feedback and monitoring mechanism of the implementation of the legislation which is a crucial element ensuring the quality of new legislation.
  • Lack of sufficient number of well-trained people in the various phases of the legislative process. The NGO expert potential could be very helpful in the initial phase of the preparation of draft legislation as well as by the debates on the draft-acts in the parliamentary committees. The existing experience of such cooperation shows the advantages of this participation model.
  • In most of cases, Bulgarian legislation is drafted by using foreign models, with EU legislation as the leading model for areas to which it applies. However, there is no explicit procedure as to the mechanism, timing and manner of incorporation of foreign, in particular EU, expertise into the drafted texts.
  • There is no administrative body , which controls and supervises the whole process.

1.3. Failing administration of justice

It is well known that legal proceedings under both civil (including commercial and administrative) and criminal cases are slow and harbor opportunities for involved parties to intentionally drag out the process in bad faith. In order to speed up the process of administration of justice, it is not enough simply to change procedural regulations.

The judicial system operates in an outdated, overly-bureaucratized, and slow manner. Its current poor organization is a source of corruption and frustration not only for ordinary citizens but also for those working within the system.

1.4. Lack of reliable staff recruitment procedures and professional training

Presently there are many professionals working in the judicial system, yet a significant number of magistrates are young people with good theoretical background but little professional and life experience. In the everyday exercise of their duties they constantly face various difficulties, and the shortcomings in their performance are largely due to this lack of preparation for the specific nature of the work. On the other hand, experienced magistrates face problems arising from constant changes in legislation and therefore need further training. But programs for basic training and continuing education of magistrates are yet to be developed. To a great extent, it is in fact the lack of experience and skills that account for negative results in the operation of the judicial system even though the general public tends to attribute them to corrupt practices.

There are no special programs in Bulgaria designed to promote a certain kind of professional and personal conduct for magistrates in line with the social significance of their profession.

A system of evaluation of magistrates is lacking.

The professional skills of the supporting staff of the judicial system are highly inadequate. Their duties are most demanding and the conditions of work primitive. No professional training has been provided for them and their performance is sometimes so poor as to thwart the efforts of the magistrates.

1.5. Inadequate technical infrastructure

Most courts, prosecution and investigation offices in the country use out-dated technical equipment. There is a lack of coordination between the separate units of the system.

 
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