On 21 December 2014, Ambassadors of a series of Sofia-based embassies issued a joint statement. The statement reads:
It is a good thing that Bulgarians have begun a debate on the administration of justice. On 10 December, 15 judges from the Sofia City Court - a key jurisdiction in the country, responsible for some of the most sensitive cases - published an open letter to the Supreme Judicial Council calling for the resignation of the President of the Court and two of her four Deputies. The following day, 25 magistrates from the Sofia regional court joined their colleagues’ initiative. And the Bulgarian Union of Judges followed suit. Many other judges have also expressed their support for their colleagues. On December 18, 33 lawyers joined the movement.
The President and her Deputies immediately rejected the call to resign and the allegations in the open letter, and it is not our place to judge who is right and who is wrong. However, the fact that the judges have raised these questions is to the credit of the Bulgarian judicial system and society.
When a group of respected professionals raises concerns and questions such as these, they deserve careful consideration and a full response. It is a positive sign of an open, democratic society that people feel able to raise these sorts of concerns; of course 2013’s civil society protests were an equally important moment for Bulgaria. The institutional response to such concerns is crucial.
The hallmark of an open democratic society is its independent institutions which are able to act free from political pressure: this includes an independent judicial system which can investigate, prosecute, convict and imprison someone without fear or favour and the ability of law-enforcement and judicial institutions to show adequate, resolute and transparent reaction in individual cases. There have been welcome examples of this happening elsewhere in the region.
We are witnesses of positive developments in Bulgaria, including the adoption by the Council of ministers on December 17, of the Judicial Reform Strategy. Bulgaria’s Parliamentarians also have a significant responsibility in their examination of the texts which will set out this indispensible reform.
But above all, the magistrates themselves will be the key players in making a reformed judicial system work. Many of them have given a lot of thought to what needs to be done and how. Their efforts need to be recognised and heard.
The events of the summer of 2013 showed that Bulgarian civil society had the courage and know-how necessary to make a stand against the unacceptable arrogance of the “oligarchy”. Civil society has become increasingly aware of the issues and cannot understand why Bulgarian citizens cannot enjoy the same rights and values as the citizens of other EU Member States.
As Bulgaria’s European partners, we are committed to supporting Bulgaria as it works towards the best standards in justice and the rule of law. We believe that this is our duty. Under the CVM, these matters are discussed by all EU Member States within the Council of Ministers, and all of us (including Bulgaria) agree formal conclusions upon Bulgaria’s progress. This is therefore not simply a domestic matter. And the CVM should equally not be seen as outisde or foreign criticism of Bulgaria. It serves to verify to what extent the commitments made by Bulgaria when it joined the EU have been met. The authorities, and also Bulgarians active in the judicial system, should make the most of this process.
All peoples deserve a judicial system in which they can have confidence. The Bulgarian people too. They have our support on this road.
- H. E. Mr. Jonathan Allen, Ambassador of the United Kingdom
- H. E. Mr. Christian Kønigsfeldt, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Denmark
- H. E. Mr. Harri Salmi, Ambassador of Finland
- H. E. Mr. Tom van Oorschot, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands
- H. E. Mrs. Anick Van Calster, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Belgium
- H. E. Mr. Xavier Lapeyre de Cabanes, Ambassador of France
- H. E. Mr. Roland Hauser, Ambassador of Austria