Increasing human rights competence within the courts
The number of complaints against Bulgaria before the European Court of Human Rights has been significantly reduced. According to the Bulgarian Ministry of Justice, this is a result of sending Bulgarian judges and experts for a placement at the Court.
Over the last few years, nine Bulgarian judges have been placed in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg for up to one year. The objective has been to improve the competence of the judges and the Bulgarian court system in order to enable Bulgaria to comply with and implement the European Convention on Human Rights.
Galya Valkova, a Bulgarian family judge, is one of the judges who were given the opportunity to work in the registry of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. After the placement in Strasbourg, she has not only gained more knowledge of the Convention, but also more practical experience in applying the case law of the court.
“To improve the compliance with human rights standards in Bulgaria, it is not enough only to rely on the Convention, but we must also use the Courts practice and case law. Before I went to Strasbourg, I mostly focused on case law in judgements against Bulgaria, but now I know how to look for cases from other countries as well,” Valkova said.
Another judge who was on placement in Strasbourg is Irina Ganeva.
“I apply the acquired knowledge in my everyday work as a judge. Now I look at the court proceedings from a different perspective, which guarantees the parties higher standards of justice,” Ganeva said.
The nine judges that went to Strasbourg have formed a network for Bulgarian judges where they provide guidance and advice to their colleagues in order to expand knowledge on application of the Convention and case law to the rest of the judiciary.
Also judge Tsveta Jeliazkova, who had the opportunity to work in Strasbourg, believe this projects is of significant importance to the Bulgarian judiciary.
“In my opinion, the judiciary in Bulgaria is still trying to find out its proper place in our post-communist society. The human rights situation in Bulgaria could be linked to the establishment of an independent and trustworthy judicial system. Human rights training of the members of the Bulgarian judiciary are to be seen as one irreplaceable tool in creating deeper self-consciousness in judges and prosecutors for their role in protecting basic human rights,” she said.
A more efficient judicial system
“The focus of our project has been on solving serious challenges in the Bulgaria judiciary and improving the efficiency of the judiciary,” explained Galina Karagyozova, member of the Supreme Judical Council, the administrative body of the Bulgarian judicial system. This has included improving the capacity of the judiciary to comply with human rights standards through the placements in Strasbourg as well as creating a system for sending electronic summons through an electronic portal for e-justice.
“Finally, we have created a mechanism for assessing the workload of the Bulgarian courts on individual and institutional level. An objective picture of the workload will contribute to a fairer distribution of cases between bodies within the judiciary, and is a first step towards a reform of the judicial map of Bulgaria. This will contribute to more efficient work of the judicial system,” said Karagyozova emphasising that funding through Norway Grants has been crucial.
Awareness and access to human rights knowledge
The main judgements against Bulgaria in the European Court of Human Rights have been related to lengthy court proceedings and prison conditions. Increasing the knowledge within the courts and administration on how to use the case law from the Court in the everyday work and in executing judgements is a key aim of another project also supported under the Norway Grants judicial capacity building programme. The overall goal being to improve the human rights situation in Bulgaria.
“It has been difficult to access judgements and case law from the European Court of Human Rights because it has not been available in Bulgarian. As part of the project we have therefore created a new website – humanrights.bg – which is the first human rights website in Bulgaria in Bulgarian. Here we publish translated judgements and decision from the court. We hope this will contribute to a better understanding of human rights” said Milena Kotzeva, project manager and director of the Procedural Representation of the Republic of Bulgaria before the European Court of Human Rights.
As part of the project, the Procedural Representation Office has also published a manual on the European Convention on Human Rights as well as different publications and manuals on human rights for the judiciary and state administration, including the prison administration. Capacity building by placements of experts in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has also been part of the project.
“Working in the registry of the European Court of Human Rights gives great knowledge of how the European human rights system works and the case law of the court,” said Maria Dimitrova.
As a so called government agent she is now involved in defending Bulgaria before the Court and in executing of judgements against Bulgaria.
“The work of the seconded experts also contributed a lot to the reduction of the backlog on complaints against Bulgaria in the Court of Human Rights” said Kotzeva.
The aim of the ‘Judicial capacity building’ programme is to improve the human rights situation in Bulgaria and create a fairer and more efficient judicial system. Five projects are supported under this programme. Two of these projects are mentioned in this article. All the five projects are implemented in cooperation with the Council of Europe.
Read more about the 'Support towards strengthening of domestic remedies to alleged violations of provisions of the ECHR and capacity for the execution of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights' project