We note the significant progress of your country with regard to the judicial and anti-corruption reform.

These are the words of Mr. Zsolt Nemeth, co-rapporteur of the Committee for Compliance with the Obligations and Commitments of the Member States of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE Monitoring Committee) during the working meeting of the PACE representatives at the Ministry of Justice with Deputy Ministers Evgeni Stoyanov and Prof. Nikolay Prodanov.

PACE rapporteurs Mr. Frank Schwabe and Mr. Zsolt Nemeth as well as the Head of the Committee Secretariat Ms. Agnieszka Nachilo are in Sofia on a visit as part of the post-monitoring dialogue with Bulgaria.

At the Ministry of Justice, they raised questions about the progress of judicial reforms, the fight against corruption and the conditions in prisons.

Deputy Minister Evgeni Stoyanov emphasised that the serious constitutional reforms in the area of the judiciary have resulted in splitting the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) into a College of Judges and a College of Prosecutors which decide independently on issues related to the staff development and disciplinary liability of the respective categories of magistrates. The possibility for magistrates to elect directly their representatives on the SJC was introduced for the first time. After the amendments to the Judicial System Act, the Prosecutor’s Office is unified but not centralized. Prosecutors and investigators are no longer subordinate to the Prosecutor General. Subordination is preserved only with respect to the administrative heads, moreover only in their leadership activities.

As regards the topic of preventing high-level corruption, Deputy Minister Stoyanov reported for the leading role of the new Combating Corruption and Illegal Assets Forfeiture Commission set up after the adoption of the Combating Corruption and Illegal Assets Forfeiture Act in the beginning of the year.

“We believe that, currently, we have managed to achieve a function of preventing and combating corruption, the publicity of persons occupying positions of power and the possibility for forfeiture of illegal assets,” Deputy Minister Stoyanov stated.

When asked by PACE representatives what actions were taken to continue the judicial reforms, Deputy Minister Stoyanov emphasized the Updated Strategy to Continue the Judicial Reform adopted by the Government and the work of the Council for the Updated Strategy to Continue the Judicial Reform at the Ministry of Justice with the participation of professional and civil organisations. He also noted the amendments to the Criminal Code developed and discussed at the Council in relation to corruption crime which have been adopted by the Government and are being discussed by the National Assembly. Stoyanov also pointed out that actions had been taken to develop a new Concept Paper on Criminal Policy.

With respect to the topic of the conditions in Bulgarian prisons, the responsible Deputy Minister Prof. Nikolay Prodanov focused on the active work of the Ministry and the Bulgarian State over the last several years to renovate the infrastructure in prisons and the substantial efforts to reform the Bulgarian penitentiary system taking the form of legislative amendments. He outlined upcoming steps in this regard such as the building of a new prison and a new training centre in the region of Sofia with funds from the Norwegian Financial Mechanism 2014 – 2021.