292 judges across Bulgaria have sent a statement to the Bulgarian citizens

Text translated from Bulgarian to English, published by the Union of Judges in Bulgaria, original text can be found here:

292 judges across Bulgaria have sent the following statement to the Bulgarian citizens:

Dear citizens,

In connection to a conditional release order, recently we have become witnesses to a vicious political abuse of the suffering of crime victims’ relatives, the citizens’ feeling of insecurity and the limited by law court’s abilities to engage in an active communication with the society.

The result can already be seen – sowing fear and disaccord in the Bulgarian society, spreading mistrust and hatred towards the court, discrediting long-standing legal institutions, and diminishing the state’s responsibility to carry out meaningful and useful work – on one hand, with the convicted so that they are prepared for a law-abiding life after years of social exclusion and they do not represent a threat to society and, on the other hand, with the victims’ relatives so that they can continue living with dignity after their painful and irreversible loss.

We do not argue with the citizens’ right to have a free discussion about the meaning of justice and the content of judicial acts, about the purpose of punishment and the state policy for successful re-socialization of prisoners. We do not denigrate the grief of those close to the murdered young man and their right to demand that everyone shows respect to their tragic loss and to the memory of the deceased.

However, the specific conditional release order of a convicted person has been used by various political system representatives solely as a means to vilify the court and threaten members of the Trial Chamber.

The current situation is unacceptable in a rule of law country because it has no public benefit, apart from some questionable short-term political dividends – it neither strengthens the court’s independence, nor educates the citizens on the importance of the rule of law, nor initiates the much needed conversation about criminal justice policy and the tasks of criminal repression, nor – ultimately – brings comfort to the victims’ loved ones and helps them continue living with dignity despite their trauma.

Dear citizens, without going into details and discussing the judicial act in its entirety, as we do not have this right, we would like to reiterate some basic points. If destroyed, they would turn the court into a decorative facade for imposing the will of those who are politically powerful today, of those who have economic and power resources to manipulate the public opinion for their own benefit through the media or of those who belong to more aggressive public groups.

  1. An early release implies that a sentence has already come into effect. It is neither a pardon, nor a revision of the sentence, nor a reduction of the punishment. The length of the punishment continues to be the same as at the time when the sentence has come into effect. The consequence of the early release is that the execution of the punishment will not be concluded in prison. The exemption from the part of the sentence that has not yet been served is conditional – with a probationary period, during which the convicted person should not commit another intentional crime, for which a sentence of imprisonment is provided. If this condition is not met, the convicted person will serve also the remainder of their sentence. The reason of the procedure is unconditional – state violence, used for achieving the correction of perpetrators, is being limited to the extent that is actually necessary to fulfil the purpose of the punishment; financial resources are being saved; the proper re-socialization of the convicted person after many years of isolation is being supported by care and supervision which ultimately reduces the risk of recidivism and assists in guaranteeing public safety.

  2. This specific early release is no exception. On the same day of hearing, the Sofia Court of Appeal has issued two more similar judicial acts. From 1968 on, tens of thousands of early release orders have been issued. The Criminal Code states that early release is possible after serving half of the sentence if the convicted person had not committed the crime under the conditions of dangerous recidivism. What the court should assess according to Art. 70, para. 1 of the Criminal Code, is whether the convicted person “has given evidence of their correction”. This judgment is a legal right of the court and is being made based on the evidence in the case and its legal significance.
  1. Once the Trial Chamber of the Sofia Court of Appeal has unanimously exercised its legal authority, no one has a legitimate reason to insist that they should decide the case in a manner that is inconsistent with their internal beliefs, formed on the basis of the law and the evidence in the case. The opposite is a “street justice”, which has nothing to do with the rule of law, does not guarantee the equality of all people before the law, and brings neither justice, nor peace.

  2. The appeals for lynching and violence against the court are highly unacceptable. They lead to a dangerous escalation of tension and threaten the safety and privacy of judges. They jeopardize the fair process and not only in similar cases – because it generally gives the impression that the court can be influenced out of procedure if it is physically vulnerable.

Dear citizens, since the government system has made no effort to guarantee the independence of the court as a fundamental pillar of the rule of law, we appeal to you for a conscious and responsible behavior in defense of the fundamental democratic values, human dignity and public peace.

Signed by 292 judges from the Supreme Court of Cassation, the Supreme Administrative Court, the Burgas Court of Appeal, the Sofia Court of Appeal, District Court – Blagoevgrad, District Court – Burgas, the Administrative Court of Burgas, District Court – Varna, Administrative Court – Varna, District Court – Vidin, District Court – Lovech, District Court – Rousse, District Court – Smolyan, District Court – Stara Zagora, District Court – Kyustendil, Sofia City Court, the Sofia District Court, District Court – Gabrovo, District Court – Razgrad, the Administrative Court of Sofia City, Regional Court – Blagoevgrad, Regional Court – Burgas, Regional Court – Varna, Regional Court – Vidin, Regional Court – Vratsa, Regional Court – Gorna Oryahovitsa, Regional Court – Dryanovo, Regional Court – Lovech, Regional Court – Lukovit, Regional Court – Smolyan, Regional Court – Stara Zagora, Sofia Regional Court, Regional Court – Zlatograd, Regional Court – Rousse, Regional Court – Razgrad, Regional Court – Peshtera, Regional Court – Dupnitsa, Regional Court – Kazanlak.