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'Nepotism' scandal in Bulgaria's judiciary escalates

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'Nepotism' scandal in Bulgaria's judiciary escalates

Justice - Photo © James Steidl - Fotolia

(SOFIA) - A nepotism scandal in Bulgaria's judiciary escalated Thursday as hundreds of judges demanded the dissolution of the top judicial body over its controversial appointment of a court chief.

Some 1,000 judges signed a declaration that slammed "the unconvincing personnel choices" of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) after the appointment earlier this month of Vladimira Yaneva as head of the Sofia City Court instead of another more experienced candidate.

Yaneva is a close family friend of Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov and the media has speculated that her appointment might let Tsvetanov influence court rulings.

Two top judges of the SJC tabled their resignations last week, citing "nepotism" in judiciary appointments.

The 25-member SJC, in charge of all appointments in Bulgaria's judiciary, can only be dissolved by parliament or if all its members unanimously quit.

"We are now in a prolonged and escalating crisis of quality and honesty in judiciary appointments... that ruins people's confidence in the efficiency and impartiality of the court system," the judges said Thursday.

They urged Justice Minister Margarita Popova to reform the way the SJC is formed, by cutting the number of parliamentary nominations that now form half of the 25-member council.

A lowering of the SJC judges' mandate to three from the current five years and longer practice requirements were two other of the proposed changes.

Non-governmental organisations supported the judges' call for SJC resignations with the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) noting that the council "has no integrity to lose any more."

"If left in place, it can only continue to ruin justice... There is a risk for the supremacy of the law to collapse," the BHC said.

Campaigners have organised a candle light protest outside the Supreme Court of Appeal in Sofia Thursday evening to the memory of the "deceased Bulgarian Justice."

Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007 but the country's judiciary is being closely monitored by Brussels amid concerns over slow trials and lack of sentences.

The European Commission is due to issue its next monitoring reports on Bulgaria and neighbouring Romania's progress on judicial reforms in July.

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