Strasbourg, 6 April 2005
CCJE (2005) 27
Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE)
Questionnaire on theme “Justice and society”: Reply submitted by the delegation of Bulgaria
Please find bellow our answers in the order of the questions without repeating the questions themselves.
With decision stated in Minutes # 25 from 25.06.2003 the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) adopted Uniform media strategy of Judiciary. Basic principle of the strategy is the fact that the citizens possess constitutional right of being informed, except in the cases when the law prohibits access to particular type of information. The aim is establishment of realistic public appearance of the judicial system and rise in legal culture of the society in general.
Article 121, paragraph 3 of the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria proclaims the principle that court hearings in all courts of justice are public, if not otherwise provided by the law. This principle is further developed in the standards of the criminal and civil jurisdiction – article 105, paragraph 1 of the Code of Civil Procedure and article 13 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
The sittings of the Supreme Judicial Council are also open to public, except for the cases when decisions are taken for withdrawal of immunity or during disciplinary suits against magistrates.
On the grounds of the Judicial System Act, at every six months SJC summons and summarizes information from all Courts of justice, Procurators’ and Inquisitional offices, as well as annual reports on their activity. A summarized annual report prepared by SJC is deposited for information purposes in the National Assembly on yearly bases.
An electronic public register of all sittings and decisions of the SJC is maintained on an own Internet site. The website contains also information concerning the statute of the Council, enactments in the field of the judicial system, topical information on judicial bodies, and the disciplinary practice of SJC.
In accordance with the requirements for publicity and transparency, with a decision of the SJC, press centers have been established in the following judicial bodies: Supreme Court of Cassation, Supreme Administrative court, Supreme Cassation Procurator’s office, Court of Appeal – Varna, Court of Appeal – Plovdiv, Court of Appeal – Veliko Tarnovo, Court of Appeal – Burgas, City Court of Sofia, District Court of Varna, Regional Court of Sofia.
The National Judicial Institute is developing a pilot program for training of magistrates in communication with the media.
Certain television channels in the country broadcast legal programs which present legal disputes and judicial decision on particular problems. Retired and active magistrates (judges, public prosecutors, inquisitors, lawyers) take part in such programs as experts.
At present there are two international projects for legal initiative for training and development in progress.
- “Press center – model of the judicial system’s media policy”. Partners for this initiative are the American Bar Association (ABA) and Central Europe and Eurasia Legal Initiative (CEELI)
- “Access to Justice”. Partner for this project is Open Society.
For convenience of citizens and journalists SJC has appointed a PR specialist (SJC spokesman). He is present at all sittings of the Council and his obligation is to inform the media about the decisions taken.
All PR specialists in the judicial system form media pool and attend a general meeting at least once a year. This is first step to establishment of United Legal Information Center. During these annual meetings magistrates, representatives of non- governmental organizations, journalists and other specialists deliver lectures and hold discussions.
An electronic register of the international projects and programs concerning the judicial system is available on the website of SJC.
Court hearings or other law procedures in criminal jurisdiction are closed to public only when this is necessary for protection of state secret or ethics, or for the purposes of witness protection, when witness’s identity has to remain secret. (Article 262, Criminal Procedure Code)
For civil legal procedures this matter is settled in article 105, paragraph 2 from Civil Procedure Code. If circumstances related to the case may prove harmful for the society or if these circumstances are connected to the intimate life of the parties, the court on his own discretion or on request of one of the parties enacts all the case hearings or some parts and actions to be held with closed doors.
The Supreme Administrative Court has own website where judgments are published. Each citizen has free access to this information.
The Supreme Court of Cassation of Republic of Bulgaria publishes its decisions on texts, concerning the civil and the criminal law in a news bulletin on monthly basis.
The computer legal information system (APIS) is regularly updated with all recent acts of the judicial authorities, Legislature and Executive authority. This system is available to all citizens and entities in the country.
At present there are different arbitration courts in Bulgaria, which serve as alternative to solving legal disputes between parties. Following organizations have been established: Bulgarian association for extra-judicial solving of disputes, National Institute for reconciliation and arbitration at the Ministry of Labor and Social policy, for solving of collective labor disputes, Center for extra-judicial solving of disputes at the Lawyers Union in Bulgaria.
Since 17.12.2004 the Mediation Act is in force. It settles the issues related to the mediation as an alternative mean for solving of legal and other disputes.
Bulgaria is part of international project for Alternative settlement of (legal) disputes. Partner for this project is USAID via ABA and CEELI.
The average duration of law procedures at the different levels of jurisdiction differs. There are no legal requirements about the duration of the trials in those courts. In accordance with article 190 from the Code of Civil Procedure the court has to announce its decision and motivation within 30 days from the final sitting. As far as the Criminal Jurisdiction is concerned, article 306 from Criminal Procedure code states that for cases, which are of factual or legal complexity, the motives may be given 15 days after awarding of judgment.
One of the goals of the Uniform media strategy of Judiciary is to explain to the citizens, using the media, that not the swiftness of the jurisdiction is the most important factor, but the good work of the judicial authorities and the objective application of the law.
Since 01.01.2003 in Bulgaria operates National Judicial Institute. One of the projects developed by the Institute is a pilot program for training of magistrates in communication with the media. They are trained to overcome methodological and psychological problems in the process of communication with citizens and journalists.
The National association of court clerks has developed and adopted Ethic code of court clerks. The purpose of the code is to establish rules for ethic behaviour of the clerks. This will preserve and increase the confidence of the society in the judicial system and validate it as efficient, objective and independent.
The infrastructure in the courts is being constantly improved. However, some courts still experience difficulties with the equipment of buildings, courtrooms, offices of magistrates and clerks. In cooperation with the Ministry of Justice and SJC all courts in Bulgaria have been computerized.
Judges and prosecutors sit in bar gowns. Military magistrates – judges, prosecutors and inquisitors – work in military uniforms.
The official legal language is Bulgarian. If a participant in the trial has not command of Bulgarian the court appoints a translator. The court covers expenses for translator for criminal cases and administrative cases for granting a statute of refugee.
The possibility to turn to the court, to receive free legal advice and a free legal counsel is a resolved issue in Bulgaria. Nobody is restricted in his/her rights to turn to the court as a result of his/her financial situation. Even in practice the problem is that citizens abuse their rights, i.e. they often turn to the court without appropriate reason, and this causes considerable expenses for the state and the courts.
The experience shows that the introduced arbitration courts in Bulgaria so far cannot contribute significantly to the reduction of workload at the court.
The place of the prosecutor is in the courtroom, together with the other parties in the suit.
Even if in custody, the defendant appears in court and participates in the hearing with no handcuffs. He has also the opportunity to communicate with his defender, if he has one. The courtrooms in Bulgaria are not equipped with cells or other places of isolation of the defendants during the court hearings.
As stated above, with the adoption of Uniform media strategy of Judiciary by SJC, a special structure for public relations has been established.
1. PR specialist (spokesperson) of SJC.
2. Press attaché
Their obligation is to conduct the communication between magistrates and journalist after coordinating the information with the relevant judicial authorities. They inform the journalist in lawful manner on the progress of lawsuits which are of public interest, organize press conferences on initiative of the judicial authorities or on their own initiative, after obtaining the authorities consent.
Main communication methods are:
1. Press conferences – the PR specialist holds them. The head of the relevant judicial authorities or magistrates may be present.
2. Press statements – related to particular lawsuits or other events. Those statements are sent by fax or electronic mail directly to the media. Previously they are brought into line with the head of the relevant authorities.
4. Interviews and participations in broadcastings – the PR specialist requests in advance the journalists questions and agrees with the journalist that the interview will be revised before publication in order to correct it if necessary.
5. Telephone conversations with journalists – it is advisable when the press attaché or the magistrate is acquainted with the journalist who requests information.
The Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria guaranties the right of information for the media. – “Press and other means of mass information are free and can not be subject to censorship.” Article 40, paragraph 1 from the Constitution.
Everyone is entitled to request, receive and distribute information. The exercise of this right may not violate the rights and the good reputation of other citizens or to act against the national security, public order, public health and ethics. (Article 41, paragraph 1 from the Constitution). This constitutional principle is further developed in the Code of Civil Procedure, in the Criminal Procedure Code and in the Uniform media strategy of Judiciary.
Journalists, cameramen and photo reporters are allowed in the courtrooms during public hearings. This is subject to the permission of the head of chamber. Video and photo cameras are allowed only in the beginning of the hearing – for documental shots and pictures. Later in the courtroom may stay only journalists but no cameramen and photo reporters are allowed. Filming or photographing the awarding of judgment may be permitted. When cases of substantial public interest are heard and the media is not present, the magistrates involved help the press attaché to prepare the information for submitting to the media (except in the cases when submission of information is prohibited by the law)
At their sole discretion the magistrates may give interviews related to particular cases or general legal issues.
The heads of the judicial authorities may grant to journalist access to cases or other documents, when the law does not prohibit this. The press attaché is present while the journalist is working with the documents.
For better cooperation between judicial authorities and journalists the PR specialist contacts the journalists and invites them to the event. Usually the same reporters reflect events related to the Judiciary. Seminars are held for those reporters so that they get updated with important changes in the law system. This is done in order to prevent the journalist from misleading the public due to poor knowledge of the matter, and in this manner cause harm to the reputation of the judicial authorities.
If the photographs made in the courtroom include other participants of the trial beside the members of the court, their agreement is needed. This results from the principle stated in article 32 of the Constitution, that the privacy of the citizens is sacred and no one may be filmed, photographed, recorded or subjected to other similar actions without knowing it or without giving his explicit permission for it, except in the cases when the law provides so.
The freedom of the press and the right to information is restricted by the right to human dignity and reputation and the protection of inherent and special rights. Such restrictions are included in the Constitution and regulation is provided by the Obligations and Contracts Act – article 52 “Compensation for non-material damages are determined by the court “ex aequo et bono”(justly).
These rights are protected also by the Criminal Code. The offended person may decide what instrument she/he uses against the press. Civil procedure is most popular. Neither of the acts pinpoints the press as a special violator of law, general rules apply for violations committed by the press.
Depending on the circumstances, criminal sanctions may involve fine or imprisonment up to three years. In practice fine is usually imposed, however, there have been some cases when suspended imprisonment was imposed because of excessive libel committed by the press.
The highest sanction is provided by the Criminal Code – up to three years of imprisonment if libel is committed against officials or public representatives during fulfillment of their obligations or functions, and is propagated by press or other means.
In 1997 to the Criminal Code was added article 148a: “Person, who disseminates verbally or in printing, or in other way, data, circumstances or statements about another person, and these are grounded on illegally obtained information from the registers of the Ministry of Interior may be sentenced to up to three years of imprisonment and a fine from 250euro to 1500 euro may be imposed.
The person offended may claim the following civil sanctions:
- she/he may demand rectification if the press publishes or disseminates false facts or distorts true facts – an equivalent of this sanction may be the publication of a response by the person affected.
- An ordinary civil action may be instituted within the period of prescription and in the frame of such an action compensation may be demanded. The condition of compensation is guiltiness. In practice, depending on the seriousness of the violation the amount of the compensation is imposed “ex aequo et bono”(justly) on the press. The law does not limit the amount of damages.
Same applies to television and radio operators. In article 18 from Radio and Television act is stated that persons, state and municipal officials broached in radio or television broadcast are entitled to the right of response. Within 7 days from the date of the broadcast the persons or the relevant officials may request in writing from the operator to broadcast their response. The request shall quote the disputable statements and the date and the time of the broadcast. The radio or television operator is obliged to include the response in the next issue of the same broadcast or in equivalent time within 24 hours from the receipt of the request. The text of the response may not be altered or shortened. The submission of the response for broadcasting is free of charge.
The social status of person, against whom libel has been committed, is by no means related to the amount of the compensation.
The person offended may appeal to the court against the media and/or journalist who has disseminated the information. A criminal case of private nature is enacted and eventually finalized with awarding of judgment. During the trial the person offended may put a civil claim against non-material damage.
The television and radio operators shall not be held responsible for the disseminated information, if this information is obtained according to the official procedures or is quoting official documents. (article 17, paragraph 4 from Radio and Television Act)
Police services often hold press conferences, reflecting actions of Ministry of Interior officials, related to imprisonment of criminals or other important actions of fight against crime.
Article 40, paragraph 1 from the Constitution states that press and other means of mass information are free and cannot be subject to censorship.
Article 9 from Radio and Television Act states that broadcasts cannot be subject to any kind of censorship.
Theoretically there are precautions, which may be taken against publishing of illegal information. However in practice this is happening very seldom because of the fact that the person, against whom libel is committed understands that his rights have been violated only after the dissemination of the information.
If judge or court is libeled in the press because of reasons, related to the administration of justice, the judge or the administrative head of the court may put a claim.
According to article 121, paragraph 4 from the Constitution all judgments are motivated. Together with his judgment on particular case the judge is to give his motives for the decision taken and to answer all questions raised by the law and related to the case.
The legal community is interested primarily in the length of judicial proceedings regarding which a considerable development took place in past years. The concision and accessibility of judgments is a question concerning the quality of decisions to which legal literature and professional periodicals pay less attention.