THE NEW CHOICE AGAINST THE OLD The Bulgarian Candidate Judges for Strasbourg by Daniela FARTUNOVA The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) has slammed the doors of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in the face of the 3 Bulgarian candidates nominated by the Government in May this year. PACE has concluded that the competence and moral qualities of the Bulgarian nominations are far behind any civilised nation’s idea of a Strasbourg Court judge. The Bulgarian nominations were rejected at the initial stage of applications review. Along with ours came those of Azerbaijan, Moldova, San Marino, and Turkey. And really, for those who still believe in the independence and democracy of choice of the Parliamentary Assembly, its resolution to reject the applications of the former deputy minister of justice Margarit Ganev, attorney Shezhinka Sapundzhieva, and the Bourgas University Professor Momyana Guneva came as no surprise. The national competition as a result of which they were nominated was held in total contradiction to any and all requirements for an open selection: no procedural rules were published for the selection of the applicant judges; there was no expert committee of professionals in the field of human rights protection to verify their relevant expertise; no one mentioned any interviews - it was all a paperwork selection, and the choice of the final three was not based on a motivated conclusion. All signs of a non-transparent procedure were at hand and the winners known. Once his internal application was approved, Deputy Minister Ganev left his position at the Ministry of Justice in order to prepare for the PACE exam. Human rights organisations, judges, and jurists criticized the Government’s actions very harshly, and by means of an open letter we appealed to PACE to reject the nominations due to corrupt selection procedures. We were relieved at the news that there would be a new and this time open selection process. Everyone - media, citizens, and campaigning NGOs - were pleased with the public promise of the current Minister of Justice Tacheva to summon the “civic council of the NGOs” and together develop fair and open rules and a procedure for the new selection. Unfortunately, however, there were again curtaindown moments despite all assurances given to journalists. 1 OBEKTIV
“Civic” is too strong a word for this council seeing as access to it is in reality more than limited. It was never publicly announced what these organisations were, or how many, or whether they were campaigning, or representative. The assurances that campaigning organisations had been invited turned out to be empty, when it transpired that the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee was not only not invited but also had to exercise a substantial amount of effort and pressure to be admitted to the council by insistently self-inviting itself. Furthermore, any proposals and recommendations we made were met by either cold silence, or denial. Despite these difficulties in contributing to the development of a transparent and clear selection procedure for the ECHR judge candidates, we welcomed the fact that, on 26 October, Minister Tacheva announced her order by which the procedure was set. All jurists with high moral qualities and recognised expertise in the human rights field who do not have any mental disorders, and are “at an age and in a state of health” which would allow them to work until the expiration of the Eurojudge mandate, may apply or be nominated by 12 November 2007. Despite the unfair and inhumane exclusion of those who do not meet the “capability” stereotype - because of disease or old age - the announcement of the requirements for the new competition is an example of reform under the pressure of international institutions and a country’s civil society. Besides documentation, candidate judges will be assessed by means of a legal and language test and public interview at which senior magistrates, parliamentary representatives, the ombudsman, NGOs, and the media will be invited. The selection committee the membership of which is yet to be specified will decide which candidates will proceed to an interview, and the long list and identification of the first three candidates will be determined by the arithmetic mean result of the sum of their marks given by all committee members. The open interviews with candidate judges will take place on 16 November 2007 starting at 9.00am and everyone is invited. The overall purpose is that when PACE re-examines the Bulgarian nominations on 17 December, the Council of Europe will welcome Bulgaria into the European Court of Human Rights.
Publication of the journal Obektiv, number 149 of 2007 author Daniela Fartunova