In recent months, legal professionals and Bulgarian society as a whole closely monitored the actions of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) pertaining to the reorganization of the territorial location of the courts in the Republic of Bulgaria publicity recognized as a “judicial map reform”. On this occasion, we present the second part of IME Legal Program’s analysis: “The Judicial Map – Effects of the Application of Model 4 as Developed by the Supreme Judicial Council”. In terms of content, the study focuses on four main components:
- general analysis of the model and identification of its deficits as well as the underlying reasons for them;
- recommendations regarding follow-up actions that need to be taken by the SJC;
- hands-on research utilizing Model 4 in the Yambol court region;
- economic and legal nature of Yambol District as part of the region’s research
Following a series of actions, the Judicial College (JC) of the SJC chose to apply the so-called Model 4 in order to restructure the judicial map of the country. This activity was implemented by the SJC under the project “Development of a Model for Optimization of the Judicial Map of Bulgarian Courts and Prosecutor’s Offices and of a Unified Information System for Courts”, funded by the EU. Only for its last phase the SJC received BGN 346 587,59. In a nutshell, the Council's action plan is based on the understanding that the reorganization of the regional courts in the country will take place by drastically narrowing their generic jurisdiction at the expense of expanding the jurisdiction of the district courts and courts of appeal. In this case, a number of regional courts would have to be closed down – courts where specialization of judges cannot be achieved and courts where transformation into territorial divisions at the nearest neighboring regional court cannot be attained.
The results achieved at this stage by the eighth composition of the SJC are more than unsatisfactory and provoked well-founded resistance both by different legal professionals and local communities which would be most affected by the measures aiming at reorganizing the judicial map provided they take place.
The main problems in developing Model 4 can succinctly be described as the following:
- Lack of clearly defined goal by the SJC in restructuring the country’s judicial map;
- Lack of a large scale analysis of the problems of the currently functioning judicial map;
- Unconvincing statistical data.
The practical application of Model 4 leads to:
- Lack of financial assessment and calculation of the overall effort to introduce Model 4;
- Considering predominantly internal for the judiciary issues which appears to be of self-serving nature to the general public;
- Lack of definition of “territorial unit” and its specific functions;
- The lack of effectively functioning e-justice (understood also as a possibility to remotely exercise procedural rights) puts at serious risk the implementation of such a reform;
- The overall effect of the closure of the regional courts is unclear - in the case of Topolovgrad Regional Court, for instance, this undertaking would most probably not lead to budget savings, it would potentially unjustifiably solve the issue of uniform workload of judges and trigger strong negative reaction at the local level, which cannot be reasonably addressed;
- The thorough reading of the analytical materials under Model 4 leaves the impression that the regional courts are sacrificed at the expense of the district and administrative ones;
- In this context, some of the statements made by the professional legal communities and local authorities that citizens would, in practice, be denied access to justice are justified due to the fact that in the higher instance control justice will be concentrated mainly in the five cities of the country where the courts of appeal are based;
- The results achieved by the SJC as compared to the funds invested for 6 years are extremely unsatisfactory, the actual implementation of Model 4 has no financial justification, it does not take into account the analytical materials prepared over the years and it is unconvincing in nature.
Considering all of the above, the SJC’s undertaking was in itself an opportunity to also solve a set of key problems regarding the judiciary related to the incompetent conduct of competitions, inefficient budget spending, expensive and poorly organized modernization in the field of e-justice. Towards the end of the remaining term of office of the eighth composition of the SJC, we can again conclude that the current structure and mode of operation of the Council favor the irresponsible behavior of many of its members, and the management of the judiciary is carried out incompetently and at high cost to society.
The analysis is available in Bulgarian here.
The study was prepared with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.