Ms Bilyana Gyaurova-Wegertseder: For a year and a half, we have managed to make the first steps to initiate a change of how judges and prosecutors are elected on the leadership positions in the system

Ms Wegertseder, it’s been a year and a half since the start of the Transparent Judicial Appointments Initiative (TJAI). What are the outcomes so far?
First, I would like to say a few words about the project itself. The TJAI was launched in the summer of 2011 and we were completely aware that we might meet serious resistance both from the magistrates and the Supreme Judicial Council. The essence of the project is revolutionary, not only for Bulgaria, but for the entire region. So far no one has been preparing profiles of judges and prosecutors the way we do it, not to mention that they are uploaded on the internet, thus allowing easy access to everybody. Even adding a picture of the concrete profiled magistrate, candidate for a leading position in the judiciary, was a complete novelty. Changing a certain attitude, a mindset and a perception is always a task of great difficulty. For a year and a half, we have managed to make the first steps in that direction – to initiate a change of how judges and prosecutors are elected on the leadership positions in the system. A turnover not only in the procedures, but in the attitude towards them and the way they are carried out. The period itself turned out to be full of interesting appointments and procedures. So in purely statistical and quantitative terms, we have more than 100 completed profiles, including those of the nominees for prosecutor general, judges at the Constitutional Court and the nominated for members of the Supreme Judicial Council. No less important are the completed profiles of all judges and prosecutors who have applied for Presidents of various courts in the country.

What difficulties have you faced in the realization of the project and how did you manage to cope with them? 
Our biggest challenge and difficulty are to overcome the inertia, the sense of predetermined elections, and the feeling for impossibility to break the status quo. However, it turned out that if a candidate is presented objectively, in a professional and maximum transparent manner – that may matter. We have faced some difficulties in the process of drafting our methodology according to which the profiles are structured. Like anything done for the first time we were breaking the ground and the only experience we could use, was a foreign one. However, the American model and that of some European countries may not be mechanically transferred to Bulgaria, and should be adequately adjusted to our conditions and procedures. The process takes time and requires special attention, because our work is related to real people and the information about them should be presented in an adequate and objective way, and paying the necessary respect to their profession and personality. We are strictly following the legal requirements for personal data operation; we do not publish data which is not checked or such that may be qualified as “yellow”. We are always seeking feedback from the candidates, if possible, before the publication of the concrete profile on the website.

How do magistrates perceive the overall concept of the TJAI? In a positive sense or… ?
The magistrates’ attitude was one of our biggest concerns at the very beginning of the project. We were prepared for the worst. To our surprise, the majority of them responded positively and liked the idea of the profiles that, I will repeat it again, in an absolutely objective and transparent manner, are representing the concrete magistrate not only as a professional but also as an individual. Naturally, there were some negative reactions, which is understandable and acceptable. I am really pleased because magistrates have realized that our work on this project is not against them or against the judicial system. On the contrary, our activities within the TJAI are aiming to support every magistrate in the country, especially those applying for the leadership positions in the judiciary. I do think that the majority of judges and prosecutors as well as the SJC are really striving for the maximum transparency and predictability in their work, as this is the only way to increase the authority of the system in the eyes of the public. 
One of the main elements of the project is to establish and sustain a contact with judges and prosecutors, who are subject to profiling. Successful communication is crucial at each stage of the projects’ implementation. In the light of this, we have developed a number of questionnaires and other forms. Most of the magistrates are sharing positive comments and highly appreciate our work. We have also received suggestions on how to improve different elements from our activity and we have taken them under consideration.

The work continues; what are the future courses of the project development?
The past year was extremely saturated with important elections in the judiciary – new Supreme Judicial Council, new Prosecutor General. Head of the Inspectorate at the Supreme Judicial Council and Constitutional Court justice from the parliamentary quota are about to be elected. We are closely following these procedures and the nominees for them will be part of the profiling. I would like to stress on one thing – TJAI is not a project monitoring only key elections. On the contrary, the TJAI is much more oriented towards presenting the people who are elected on the leadership positions in all courts in the country – from the largest to the smallest one. Moreover, most of these 100 completed profiles are of magistrates who have applied for Presidents of different District and Regional Courts. And this is one of the most important values of the project – to show ordinary citizens that there are judges in their town that are honest and reputable people who can be role models. Another direction of our work is preparation of profiles of judges who are becoming tenure. This is an extremely important topic, however, almost missing from the public discussion.  Underlining its importance we would like to show that the criteria for becoming tenure should be increased as this is the last big hurdle before a magistrate becomes an absolute part of the system.

Could you make a brief overview on the development of the judicial reform in Bulgaria and the condition of the judiciary in the last two years?
It is not easy at all to summarize this topic, as in the last 23 years it has always been high on the radar of the public attention. Plenty of work has been done in Bulgaria by both local experts and the many foreign organizations which have implemented a number of projects related to the improvement of the work and organization of the processes in the judicial system. However, Bulgarian magistrates do not have self-confidence and the rating of the judiciary is amongst the lowest ones. It is logical to ask - why? Why in a system, where the professionals are among the best paid in the state and the system itself is one of the most organized, things are still stuck. We are talking about judicial reform since the beginning of the democratic processes in the country. We have decided that Bulgarias’ accession to the European Union has solved all the problems in the judiciary. It is by far not the case. The desire to preserve the status quo is much stronger than the desire for radical change, which will destroy it and lead to real compliance with the rules. And the problem is not just within the system. Over the years, each government has made attempts to "saddle" the judiciary and to pull the reins in the desired direction.  The success of this enterprise was variable, but did create a class in the government itself, which conveniently allows to be "saddled" with no interest that this behavior casts a stain on everyone else. It is sad to hear that there are judges nowadays who are ashamed to say what their profession is and prefer to hide from society instead of stepping as its natural leaders and role models. However, over the past two years there has been a revival and desire to start a change that will not remain on the surface, but will go deeper and break the status quo. More magistrates are realizing that in order to pursue a sustainable reform, it should first happen in themselves and after that spread over the entire system. I dare to say that BILI also has a role in this reform movement, and largely due to the Transparent Judicial Appointments Initiative.

Which one of your achievements so far you can say is a major accomplishment? What else can be done in the future?
We have developed and we are implementing a project, which is of unique character, a project which opened some new work possibilities in the sphere of judicial reform and Rule of Law. I highly appreciate the trust and the opportunity given to BILI by the U.S. Department of State and I am glad that we will continue our work with the support of America for Bulgaria Foundation. During the past year we were awarded with the Golden Key prize, served by the Access to Information Program for our active work in seeking access to public information and the upholding of our right of receive it. This is a sign that we are moving in the right direction and our efforts are worthy. The best part of the project is its constant development. The specialized internet portal, where we upload profiles and additional useful information is being constantly updated and improved. New procedures and possibilities for magistrates to take part actively in the preparation of their profiles and stimulation of their active participation in the career procedures processes are about to be released. We have the ambition to create conditions for broad participation of judges and prosecutors in the discussion of a certain candidacy. We are discussing other interesting ideas that I hope will positively surprise the people who are following our work.


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