Bulgaria needs to ensure better criminal justice practices

12/12/2012

Criminal justice is the weakest area of rule of law in Bulgaria, according to a recent report by the World Justice Project.

By Svetla Dimitrova for Southeast European Times in Sofia -- 12/12/12

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A shortage of well-qualified judges is causing problems in the criminal justice sector. [AFP]

Ensuring effective criminal justice remains a major challenge for Bulgaria, a recent report by the World Justice Project (WJP) showed.

The international NGO's third annual Rule of Law Index covers 97 countries, ranking them across eight areas including limits on government power, corruption, security, fundamental rights, open government, regulatory enforcement, civil justice, and criminal justice.

Bulgaria was placed 81st globally, behind Russia, Ukraine and Pakistan, for criminal justice.

The best performers in the area of criminal justice in the region are Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Romania, ranked 29th and 33rd, respectively.

BiH's ranking is based on its score of 0.62 out of a possible 1.0 for this factor, due to high marks for "crimes are effectively investigated" (0.75) and "the criminal justice system accords the accused due process of law" (0.70).

Romania's overall score for criminal justice is 0.60. Like BiH, its best performance within this category was in the "crimes are effectively investigated" sub-factor (0.72). Its second-highest mark was for "the criminal justice system is impartial" (0.71).

Greece was given 0.74 for "the criminal justice system is free of improper government influence" sub-factor, while its lowest mark of 0.22 was for the effectiveness of its correctional system in reducing criminal behaviour.

Greece was placed 46th for criminal justice, behind Macedonia and Croatia, ranked 41st and 42nd, respectively, but ahead of Serbia (60th), Turkey (71st), Albania (74th) and Moldova (75th).

Bulgarian experts and analysts were not surprised with their country's poor ranking on this specific factor of rule of law.

"There are two key reasons for this," Sofia-based lawyer Maya Zlateva said told SETimes. "First, for judges the court's independence has become synonymous with absolute [authority], by which they increasingly perceive themselves as sacred cows, forgetting that their task is to serve the public interest."

"Secondly, there is an increasing tendency across the entire judicial system for formalism in the application of the law in both criminal and civil justice," she said, also citing "a shortage of well-qualified judges, political and corporate pressure on magistrates, and corruption."

Other experts noted the lack of mechanisms to hold judges responsible for poor jurisdiction or stalled trial cases, and the detrimental long-running enmity between the court and the prosecution.

According to Tihomir Bezlov, senior analyst at the Sofia-based Centre for the Study of Democracy, the situation in the Bulgarian court system has "deteriorated dramatically."

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"The independence of the court has served as a stepping stone towards absolute power and consequently absolute corruption," he told SETimes.

Despite efforts to improve the image of the court in recent years, only 9 percent of Bulgarian citizens think they have led to a positive change, Sofia-based polling agency Alpha Research noted in a recent report.

"People cite corruption and political pressure as the basic problems in Bulgarian law enforcement institutions: police, investigation, prosecution and court," Lyubomir Todorakov, a researcher with the agency, told SETimes.

Some citizens, like Sofia resident Mila Dimitrova, said the only way to improve the current situation is to "establish some sort of a judiciary board, or place the system under direct EU control."

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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