Bulgaria's Justice System Paralysed by Bomb Threats France_Presse - 2003/4/8
Bulgaria's justice system is being crippled by bomb threats that have for months been forcing courtrooms across the country to close.
The president of the Supreme Court of Appeals, Ivan Grigorov, said last week that he has requested a meeting with Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg and the interior ministry on Monday to "discuss ways of making the justice system work."
"If the prime minister has to call a state of emergency or to place tanks around court houses, then he has to do that. At the very least, policemen have to be stationed in front of courts in Sofia from Monday," he told journalists.
The justice ministry in Sofia has been forced to close for three days in one week because of bomb threats and a dozen courts elsewhere have had to adjourn for 24 hours for the same reason.
On March 25, an explosion shook the offices of the state prosecutor in Sofia, but caused no injuries or serious damage.
"Bomb scares have increased" since then, said Nely Kutskova, the president of the regional court in Sofia.
"Before, we had about one a week, but we never stopped working. Since the explosion at the prosecutor's offices, we no longer take that risk," she said.
"This means that whoever stands to gain from a case being postponed, can achieve that by just picking up the phone," she said.
Justice Minister Anton Stankov has announced that the government was recruiting retrenched soldiers to form a special protection force for justice buildings.
Between January and March, there have been 182 bomb threats in Bulgaria, of which eight percent were directed against the justice system, according to Rumen Milanov, the director of a task force to combat organised crime.
In 2002, 111 bombs exploded in the former communist country, killing four people and injuring eight.
The European Commission, the US state department, the Bulgarian police and the public believe that the inefficacy of the justice system is one of the main obstacles to reform in the country.
"Bulgaria should cut back on the "excessive amount of time" court cases take and "protect basic human rights in criminal cases," the European Commission said last week in a document that pertains to Bulgaria and Romania's planned accession to the European Union in 2007.
The US State Department's annual report on human rights published in March noted that "the corruption of the legal system" in Bulgaria was "a serious problem."
The secretary general of the interior ministry, Boiko Borissov, has complained that "unsound" legislation "demotivates" the police because officers were obliged to arrest "the same thief 26 to 28 times."
"It is not acceptable that a man who is caught stealing a car is set free 'for not having consumated the crime' after he explained that he was only seeking shelter from the rain in the vehicle," he said.
Borissov, recently demanded prison sentences of "10 years or more" for those involved in the 2002 bombings.
A recent report by the non-governmental group "Coalition 2000" showed that 63 percent of the population believed the country's magistrates were corrupt.
All the political parties represented in parliament vowed last week to work to reform the justice ministry.
Members of parliament passed a resolution promising "an improvement of the capacity of the justice system, as well as amendments to the constitution" to limit magistrates's immunity before the law and to shorten their terms on the bench.
Under Bulgarian law, magistrates and judges can only be tried for serious crimes and only once a special process has been instituted to strip them of their immunity from prosecution.
The Constitutional Court in January rejected proposed changes to the law that governs the powers of the judiciary, halting negotiations with the EU on the justice chapter of Bulgaria's accession talks.
These amendments sought to limit the attorney-general's immunity and to tighten the justice ministry's control over the courts.