The Legal framework for lay judges (court assessors) in the Republic of Bulgaria

The European Network of Associations of Lay Judges (ENALJ)

Dear colleagues,
I bring to your attention the Legal framework for lay judges (court assessors) in the Republic of Bulgaria. I put in bold the most important things.
Lay judge Mimo Garcia

Article 123 of the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria reads as follows
Lay judges shall participate in the trial process in certain cases established by law.

The Judicial System Act, Section II, describes in detail the procedure for the selection of lay judges, as well as their rights and obligations:
Section II
Lay judges

Article 66. (1) In cases specified by law, lay judges shall also be part of the panel of the court which examines a case at first instance.
(2) Lay judges shall have the same rights and obligations as judges.

Article 67. (1) (Amended, SG No 1/2011, effective 04 January 2011, amended, SG No 62/2016, effective 09 August 2016) Eligibility for a lay judge shall be limited to Bulgarian citizens of full capacity to act who:

1. are aged between 21 and 68 years;

2. have a present address in a municipality which falls within the judicial district of the court for which they apply;

3. have completed at least secondary education;

4. have not been convicted for an intentional criminal offence, notwithstanding any subsequent rehabilitation;

5. do not suffer from mental illnesses.

(2) (Amended, SG No 1/2011, effective 04 January 2011) Lay judges in military courts may be generals (admirals), commissioned officers and non-commissioned officers inmilitary service.

(3) (New, SG No 62/2016, effective 09 August 2016) The following shall be disqualified from serving as lay judges:

1. lay judges in another court;

2. municipal councillors of the judicial district for which they have been elected;

3. members of the leadership of a political party, coalition or organisation pursuing political purposes;

4. employees of a court, prosecution office, investigating authorities, the Ministry of Interior or of other authorities of the national security system, located in the judicial district for which they have been elected.

Article 67а(а)(New, SG No 62/2016, effective 09 August 2016) (1) Not later than eight months before the expiry of the term of office of the lay judges, the general assemblies under Article 68b(б) shall determine the number of lay judges for the relevant court, taking into consideration:

1. the number of cases which each first-instance court examined during the previous year with lay judges;

2. the opinion of the chairperson of each first-instance court as to whether such cases tend to increase or decrease.

(2) (Repealed, SG No 32/2022, effective 27 July 2022)

(3) The number of candidates nominated by the municipal councils for lay judges may not be less than the number of lay judges for the relevant court as determined by the general assemblies under Article 68b(б).

Article 67b(б)(New, SG No 62/2016, effective 09 August 2016amended, SG No 32/2022, effective 27 July 2022) Within six months before the expiry of the term of office of the lay judges, the chairpersons of the district and appellate courts shall notify the municipal councils of the number of lay judges who must be elected.

Article 68. (Amended, SG No 62/2016, effective 09 August 2016) (1) Within five months before the expiry of the term of office of the lay judges, the municipal councils which are located within the judicial district of the respective court shall announce the initiation of the procedure for designation of lay judges and the rules for the conduct of the said procedure in one local daily newspaper, in the electronic media, on the websites of the municipalities and municipal councils concerned or, where such are not available, in another appropriate manner. Within the same time limit, the municipal councils shall elect commissions which shall verify the documents of the candidates for lay judges and shall draw up a report.

(2) Each Bulgarian citizen, who meets the requirements under Article 67 (1), may apply for the office of lay judge.

(3) The candidates for lay judges shall submit the following to the municipal councils which are located within the judicial district of the respective court:

1. a detailed curriculum vitae signed by the candidate;

2. a notarised copy of the diploma of completed education;

3. (repealed, SG No 103/2017, effective 01 January 2018)

4. a medical certificate to the effect that the person does not suffer from a mental illness;

5. contact details of two persons whom the municipal councils may approach for references;

6. a motivation letter;

7. written consent;

8. a declaration of non-existence of the circumstances under Article 67 (3);

9. a document on a check conducted according to the procedure established by the Access to and Disclosure ofthe Documents and Announcing the Affiliation of Bulgarian Citizens with the State Security Service and the Intelligence Services of the Bulgarian National Army Act, if they were born before 16 July 1973.

(4) (New, SG No 103/2017, effective 01 January 2018) The circumstance under Item 4 of Article 67 (1) shall be established ex officio by the commission.

(5) (Previous Paragraph (4), SGNo 103/2017, effective 01 January 2018) The list of the candidates admitted to entry, together with the curriculums vitae thereof, motivation letters and references and documents under Item 9 of Paragraph (3), shall be published on the website of the municipal council at least 14 days prior to the date of the hearing under Article 68a(a). At least 10 per cent of the persons who are included in the list must be qualifiedin the field of pedagogy, psychology and social activities.

Article 68а(a)(New, SG No 62/2016, effective 09 August 2016) (1) The municipal councils or committees designated thereby shall hear each of the candidates admitted at a public meeting, and each member of the municipal council shall be able to ask questions thereat.

(2) Not later than three working days prior to the hearing, non-profit legal entities designated for the pursuit of public benefit activities may submit opinions about a candidate to the municipal council, including questions to be put to the said candidate. Anonymous opinions and alerts shall be ignored.

(3) Where the hearing has been conducted by a committee ,the said committee shall draw up a report on the progress of the hearing, which shall be submitted to the municipal council within seven days before the vote and shall be published on the website of the municipal council together with the record of the hearing.

(4) (Amended, SG No 32/2022, effective 27 July 2022) Municipal councils in a public meeting by a majority, more than half of the members present, shall designate the candidates for lay judges, whom they shall propose for election by the general meetings of the district and appellate courts.

Article 68b(б). (New, SG No 62/2016, effective 09 August 2016) Lay judges shall be elected for:

1. the regional courts: by the general assembly of judges of the respective district court;

2. the district courts: by the general assembly of judges of the respective appellate court;

3. (repealed, SG No 32/2022, effective 27 July 2022)

Article 68c(в)(New, SG No 62/2016, effective 09 August 2016) Within three months before the expiry of the term of office of the lay judges, the municipal councils shall transmit the list of candidates for lay judges accompanied by a copy of the resolutions thereof and the documents under Article 68 (3):

1. to the chairperson of the competent district court:applicable to the regional courts;

2. to the chairperson of the competent appellate court:applicable to the district courts;

3. (repealed, SG No 32/2022, effective 27 July 2022)

Article 68d(г)(New, SG No 62/2016, effective 09 August 2016) (1) Lay judges at military courts shall be elected on a nomination by the commanding officers of the military units by the general assembly of judges of the military appellate court.

(2) The general assembly of judges of the military appellate court shall determine the number of lay judges for the military courts, who must be nominated by the commanding officers of the military units. The number of lay judges must be distributed among the military courts in the same proportionas the number of service persons in the judicial districts of the military courts.

(3) The commanding officers of the military units may nominate additional persons whose number shall not exceed the number determined for the respective military court by 20 per cent.

(4) Within three months, the commanding officers of the military units shall transmit list of the candidates for lay judges nominated thereby to the chairperson of the military appellate court. The documents under Article 68 (3) shall been closed with the nominations.

(5) The general assembly of judges of the military appellate court shall consider the nominations submitted and shall elect the lay judges.

Article 68e(д)(New, SG No 62/2016, effective 09 August 2016) (1) (Amended, SG No 32/2022, effective 27 July 2022) The chairpersons of the district and appellate courts shall establish a commission, which shall verify the conformity of the candidates for lay judges nominated by the municipal councils with the requirements of Article 67 (1).

(2) (New, SG No 11/2020) Where the proposed candidates are less than 50 per cent of the number determined under Article 67a(а), a new election shall not be made until the list of candidates is filled. In that case, the term of office of the lay judges shall be extended until the newly elected lay judges are sworn in.

(3) (Previous Paragraph (2), SG No 11/2020, amended, SG No 32/2022, effective 27 Jult 2022) The candidates, who conform to the requirements and are elected, shall take an oath before the general assembly of judges at the respective regional, district and military court.

(4) (Previous Paragraph (3), SG No 11/2020The list of lay judges who have been elected and have taken an oath shall be published on the website of the respective court.

Article 68f(e)(New, SG No 62/2016, effective 09 August 2016) Where the commission establishes that the candidates conforming to the requirements of Article 67 (1), nominated by the municipal councils, are fewer than the number determined under Article 67a(а), the chairperson of the respective court shall transmit a request to the municipal councils to complement the list of candidates for lay judges within one month from the receipt of the request.

Article 69. (Amended, SG No 62/2016, effective 09 August 2016) (1) Lay judges shall have a four-year term of office which shall begin to run as from the date of taking the oath.

(2) Lay judges may not be elected for more than two successive terms of office at the same court.

(3) If the examination of cases in which lay judges participate continues after the period under Paragraph (1), the participation thereof under the cases concerned shall continue until the disposal of the said casesat court of the relevant instance.

Article 70. (Amended, SG No 62/2016, effective 09 August 2016) (1) Lay judges shall be bound immediately to inform the administrative head of the respective court in case they are constituted as accused parties.

(2) The administrative head of the respective court shall conduct an ex officio check of the conviction status of lay judges once every six months.

Article 71. (1) (Previous text of Article 71, SG No 62/2016, effective 09 August 2016) lay judge shall be released early by the respective general assembly, acting on aproposal by the chairperson of the court:

1. at his or her own request;

2. when interdicted;

3. when convicted for an intentional criminal offence;

4. where continuously unable to discharge the duties thereof for more than one year;

5. (supplemented, SG No 62/2016, effective 09 August 2016) where he or she commits a serious breach of the duties thereof or systematically fails to discharge the said duties, or performs an act damaging the prestige of the Judiciary, including where the prestige of the Judiciary is damaged consequent to him or her being constituted as a party accused of an intentional criminal offence;

6. (new, SG No 62/2016, effective 09 August 2016) in case he or she is constituted as a party accused of an intentional criminal offence in connection with the discharge of functions in the administration of justice;

7. (new, SG No 62/2016, effective 09 August 2016) where anycircumstance under Article 67 (3) arises or is ascertained.

(2) (New, SG No 62/2016, effective 09 August 2016) The proposal for an early release of a lay judge must be submitted to the members of the general assembly of judges not later than three days before the holding of the assembly.

(3) (New, SG No 62/2016, effective 09 August 2016) A duplicate copy of the minutes containing the decisions of the general assembly shall be transmitted to the lay judge, to the municipal council concerned, or to the commanding officer of a military unit concerned.

Article 72. (1) Lay judges shall be summoned to sit at court hearings by the chairperson of the court for up to 60 days within a calendar year, unless the examination of the case in which they take part continues even after the end of this period.

(2) (Amended, SG No 62/2016, effective 09 August 2016) Regular and alternate lay judges shall be designated for each case on the basis of the random selection principle through electronic assignment.

Article 73. (Amended, SG No 62/2016, effective 09 August 2016) (1) For the time during which lay judges discharge the functions thereof and the duties related thereto, they shall be paid remuneration from the Judiciary budget.

(2) (Amended, SG No 13/2017) The remuneration of lay judges for each day of hearings shall be set on the basis of the actually worked hours of the day, which correspond to the duration of the court hearing until the judicial instrument is made public, including for a fraction of an hour. In case the court hearing is adjourned, lay judges shall be paid remuneration, calculated according to the procedure established by Paragraph (4).

(3) The remuneration shall be paid monthly for all days of hearings of the month concerned.

(4) The amount of remuneration of lay judges per day shall equal one twenty-secondth of 60 per cent of the basic salary of a regional judge, of a district judge or of a military court judge, respectively, but not less than BGN 20 per day /EUR 10.19 – a note from Mimo Garcia/.

(5) Lay judges shall be reimbursed for the costs of transports which they have incurred in connection withthe appearance at court hearings.

(6) Within three months from the taking of the oath, the court administrator or the administrative secretary of the respective court and the National Institute of Justice shall organise and deliver initial training to the lay judges.

Article 74. (1) The chairperson of the court may, by an order, impose a fine of BGN 50 /EUR 25.55 – a note from Mimo Garcia/ or exceeding this amount but not exceeding BGN 500 /EUR 255.46 – a note from Mimo Garcia/, on a lay judge for a failure to discharge the duties thereof, after affording the said lay judge an opportunity to account for the conduct thereof.

(2) Acting on an appeal from the sanctioned lay judge, the chairperson of the upper court may revoke the order under Paragraph (1) or reduce the amount of the fine.

Article 75. (Declared unconstitutional with Judgment No 10 ofthe Constitutional Court, SG No 93/2011) (1) (Previous text of Article 75, amended, SG No 1/2011, effective 04 January 2011). The Supreme Judicial Council shall adopt an ordinance determining:

1. the procedure for nominating lay judges;

2. the remuneration of lay judges;

3. other organisational matters related to lay judges.

(2) (New, SG No 1/2011, effective 04 January 2011) The ordinance under Paragraph (1) shall be promulgated in the State Gazette

Article 75а(а)(New, SG No 62/2016, effective 09 August 2016) The Plenum of the Supreme Judicial Council shall adopt an ordinance determining:

1. the terms and procedure for determining the number of lay judges, as well as the alternate lay judges for each court;

2. ethical rules of conduct of lay judges;

3. other organisational matters related to the activity of lay judges.

(The Bulgarian Translation Company INTERLANG)