(DF) Justice Ministry Flooded with Objections to Judicial Map Reform

June 14 (BTA) – All opinions received so far at the Bulgarian Justice Ministry in connection with a reform of the judicial map proposed by the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) are negative, the Ministry said on Monday during a discussion it organized on accessible and effective justice. The radical reform in question, known as Version 4, envisages the closure of a large number of small regional courts countrywide (113 altogether) and their conversion into territorial divisions of the nearest larger courts. The types of cases under the jurisdiction of regional courts will be reduced. District courts will examine cases at the first instance, and appellate courts at the second instance. Part of the judges will be transferred to higher courts. Territorial divisions may try cases by video conference, or a judge will sit on site. The idea is to cut costs, but litigants may have to invest a lot more time and money to appear before a faraway court. Caretaker Justice Minister Yanaki Stoilov said that “the lower a court, the more significant social role it plays” and that the reform version “gives rise to more questions than it solves”. Deputy Justice Minister Maria Pavlova said that opinions from municipal councils and mayors of dozens of settlements, from the Supreme Bar Council of Bulgaria and the Notary Chamber have been sent and continue to arrive at the Ministry. More than 500 judges have signed an objection to the proposed reform and have sent it to the SJC. Silvia Georgieva of the National Association of Municipalities argued that local communities, too, should be consulted about the judicial map reform. She said that this discussion is part of the debate about the depopulation and development of the regions which engaged in similar discussions on keeping their hospitals and schools. In her words, some regions are being gradually deprived of essential public services. According to lawyer Valya Gigova of the Supreme Bar Council, the debate is overdue and should have taken place when the reform versions were drawn up. In her opinion, the number of regional courts should be optimized but their jurisdiction should be broadened. The experience of the prosecution service should be tapped, Gigova said, adding that after the number of prosecution services was optimized, prosecutors have had difficulties in the progress and administration of their cases. Lawyer Ina Loulcheva said that if their access to justice is restricted, people will take the law into their own hands and arbitrariness will rule. In her words, judicial proceedings have a reformative and deterrent effect and the transfer of a large number of case types to the district court will erode the public credibility of justice. The publicity of court hearings would be limited if they are held by video conference, she argued. Most discussants pointed out that the judicial map reform does not concern the judicial system alone and should be submitted to a broad public and political debate. The reform could use elements of several of the versions proposed so far. Public discussions on the reform will be held shortly, after which the SJC will draft legislative amendments and will submit them to Parliament. RI/LG //