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Basic Facts about the Country

Membership of the European Union

1 January 2007

Membership of the Council of Europe

7 May 1992

Entry into force of the European Convention on Human Rights

7 September 1992

Basic Facts about the Judiciary

Budget per inhabitant

Number of professional judges per 100,000 inhabitants


Tiers in the ordinary court system


District Courts


Provincial Courts


Administrative Courts


Military Courts


Courts of Appeal


Military Courts of Appeal


Supreme Court of Cassation


Supreme Administrative Court


Constitutional Court


Not part of the ordinary judiciary


Reviews the constitutionality of laws and gives interpretative decisions that are binding on all courts


No individual complaints


The prosecutor general is elected by the plenum of the Supreme Judicial Council.


Candidates are typically proposed by the Council, but the minister of justice can also propose one. Former Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev was proposed by the prosecutorial college of the Council and elected by the Plenum, notwithstanding mass protests.


The president signs a decree appointing the prosecutor general, following election in the Council Plenum. The president’s role is ceremonial – while they can reject the appointment once, the Plenum can elect the same candidate again

Gender breakdown of judges

All instances


Supreme court

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Judicial Governance

Type of governance system

Judicial council model - Strong

Supreme Judicial Council (Judicial Council)

  • Has 25 members
  • Has two colleges – judicial and prosecutorial
  • The Judicial College has 14 members – six elected by judges from among themselves, and six elected by the National Assembly – and two ex officio members – the president of the Supreme Court of Cassation and the president of the Supreme Administrative Court.
  • The Prosecutorial College has 11 members – five members elected by the National Assembly, four elected by the prosecutors, and one elected by the investigators from among themselves. The prosecutor general is an ex officio member (by virtue of their post).
  • The minister of justice sits on the Council Plenum, presiding over its sittings, and can attend the meetings of the two colleges within the Council. However, the minister has no right to vote. They have merely ceremonial powers – they are there to promote dialogue and synergy.
  •  The mandate of elected members is five years.
  • Members cannot be re-elected.
  • The presidents of the two Supreme Courts and the prosecutor general are Council members ex officio, as long as they remain in those positions.

Inspectorate to the Judicial Council

  •  Consists of the inspector general and ten inspectors, who are elected by the National Assembly by a two-thirds majority of the members
  •  The term of office of the inspector general is five years, and that of the inspectors four years.
  •  The inspector general and the inspectors should be independent in the performance of their functions and be subject only to the law

Distribution of Responsibility

Supreme Judicial Council
  •  Represents the judiciary, stands up for its independence
  •  Determines the composition and the organisation of the work of courts, prosecutors’ offices, and the bodies of investigation, and secures their activity, technically and financially, without interfering in its implementation
  • Its powers shall be executed through its Plenum, Judges’ college and prosecutors’ college.
  • The respective colleges are responsible for appointing, promoting, transferring, and dismissing judges, prosecutors, and investigators
Inspectorate to the Supreme Judicial Council
  • Checks the organisation of the administrative operation of the courts, prosecution offices, and investigating authorities
  • Upon breaches identified in the implementation of activities by courts, prosecution offices, and investigating authorities, it alerts the administrative head of the judicial authority concerned, and the respective college of the Supreme Judicial Council.
  • Makes proposals for the imposition of disciplinary sanctions on judges, prosecutors, and investigators, as well as on court presidents
  •  Addresses alerts, proposals, and reports to other state bodies, including the competent judicial authorities
  • Carries out integrity testing and examinations for conflicts of interest of judges, prosecutors, and investigative magistrates, as well as verifications of the financial interests disclosure declarations, and checks to identify actions damaging the prestige of the judiciary and related to the impairment of the independence of judges, prosecutors, and investigators
  • Examines applications related to infringements of the right to have a case examined and disposed of within a reasonable time
  •  Discusses the draft budget of the Inspectorate as part of the overall budget of the judiciary, proposed by the minister of justice, and submits its views to the Supreme Judicial Council
  •  Sends proposals, and reports to the state bodies and competent bodies of the judiciary
  •  Provides public information about the activities of the Inspectorate.


Politically captured or heavily influenced judicial council (and/or other bodies of judicial governance)

The composition of the Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council, a body deciding on judicial careers, raises concerns. Currently, judges elect only six of the 14 members of the Judicial College of the Supreme Judicial Council. The high proportion of members appointed by the National Assembly, the parliament, poses the risk of politicising the Council’s decision-making and undermining its independence, according to the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO). The European Commission’s 2022 Rule of Law Report urged Bulgaria to change the Council’s composition so that it includes more judges elected by judges. The government has made no progress in fixing the system, however. The government informed the Commission that changing the Council’s composition would require a constitutional amendment, which could not easily be achieved in the current political climate


Another pressing issue revolves around the significant influence wielded by the prosecutor general within the Council. The parliament has discussed legislative amendments meant to curb this sway within the Council. Proposed measures included limitations on the election of prosecutors to the Council through the parliamentary quota. In June 2023, however, the president of the republic vetoed amendments that included this proposed change, due to potential concerns over its constitutionality.


In late July 2023, media reported on planned constitutional changes to restructure the Supreme Judicial Council. The proposal envisaged splitting the current Council into two separate bodies – judicial and prosecutorial. It would also entail letting judges elect judge members of the Judicial Council from among themselves, and giving these members the majority of seats.


Even if the proposed changes are made, an immediate increase in the independence of the Supreme Judicial Council – and the judiciary as a whole – is unlikely, given the pre-existing informal dynamics. It is believed that the parliament-appointed members of the Council act in line with governmental preferences. While adjustments in the Council’s composition might theoretically reduce political influence, this will not be enough to de-politicise the Council and reverse its capture in the Bulgarian context. This is because political influence goes beyond the Council’s politically appointed members. Experts contend that the Council as a whole “complies with the whims of the executive”, and is willing to ask for and/or receive instructions from government ministers. The media has reported about the Council members’ subservience to high ranking government officials, and even about council members reporting to those officials about what is happening in the Council. Notably, the appointment of Ivan Geshev as prosecutor in 2019, despite public protests, and the early termination of his mandate on 12 June 2023, once keeping Geshev in this position became a liability for his political backers (chiefly, the former Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov), have been invoked as evidence of Council’s political dependency.


Isolated formal (legislative) changes will not solve these systemic and informal problems. The problems emanate from politicians’ lack of respect for judicial independence and certain judges’ loyalties towards or dependencies on politicians. Such changes can create the illusion of progress and serve as a convenient façade covering up external and internal dependencies. While there may very well be independent judges in the Bulgarian judiciary, elections to the Supreme Judicial Council can easily be manipulated to favour judges aligned with politicians. As regards the prosecutorial college of the Council, due to vertical structure of the Prosecutor’s Office, all members elected from among prosecutors and investigators are direct subordinates of the prosecutor general, and will likely vote the way the latter does, fearing for their careers. In the absence of checks on the Council, its decision-making powers could easily be abused, even if the law seems to fit the European standard. Monitoring bodies should therefore analyse not only the law on paper, but also its implementation and any informal practices, especially those that undermine legislative changes meant to empower judges.


Regarding the Inspectorate of the Supreme Judicial Council, responsible for proposing disciplinary actions to the Council against judges and prosecutors, its members are appointed by the parliament. In its October 2022 opinion, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission warned that political involvement in these appointments “increases the risks of political attachment, thus compromising the independence of the judiciary.” To mitigate these risks, the Venice Commission recommended involving the Supreme Judicial Council in the selection/nomination process of Inspectorate members.


In June 2023, the Union of Bulgarian Jurists called for reform along similar lines, emphasising that candidates for membership in the Inspectorate are to be nominated by the judiciary, and not by the National Assembly.


The European Commission’s 2022 Rule of Law Report also recommended that Bulgaria reduce the risk of political influence over the Inspectorate by involving judicial bodies in the selection process. As highlighted in the 2023 follow-up, however, this recommendation has not been acted upon, with the government citing the need for a constitutional change.


While addressing direct involvement of judicial branches is crucial, strengthening the Supreme Judicial Council’s role might not sufficiently mitigate risks, at least as long as this body remains politically captured.


Both the Supreme Judicial Council and its Inspectorate have been functioning with expired mandates, since 2022 and 2020, respectively. The parliament’s inability to form the required two-thirds majority to elect the members of these bodies has delayed their renewal. Since 1 July 2021, the Council has operated with only four peer-elected judges, due to resignations. Moreover, on 26 May 2023, the parliament also passed an amendment that annulled the 2022 elections of peer-elected judge members. The European Commission viewed this move as a potential threat to the independence of the Council members, and that of the judiciary as a whole. However, NGO reports (for example, by the Bulgarian Institute for Legal Initiatives Foundation) signaled that these elections were not without problems, particularly with regard to the electronic voting system.

Abuse of long-term secondments of judges

The European Commission expressed concerns about the excessive use of secondments of judges in Bulgaria. According to the European standard, secondments should happen only exceptionally, on a temporary basis, and with the consent of judges. There is a risk that the authorities deciding on secondments – in the case of Bulgaria, court presidents – will abuse their authority and second judges or terminate secondments to sanction them, making them dependent and vulnerable to pressure. In its 2017 opinion, the Venice Commission saw the discretionary powers of court presidents to second judges and the lack of external checks on this power as problematic.


On 26 May 2023, the parliament changed the law to avoid the possibility of seconding prosecutors and investigators to an open position for an undetermined period. The amendment did not, however, cover judges. The government finalised promotions to reduce the need for secondments, but the Commission concluded that this action, by itself, would not prevent the widespread use of secondments and eliminate risks for judicial independence.



Aggrandisement and lack of accountability of the prosecutor general

The Bulgarian prosecutor general wields significant unchecked power over the criminal justice system, inherited from the country’s communist past. Judicial checks on the prosecutor general are limited, leading to rulings from the two European Courts. Notably, as highlighted by the Court of Justice of the European Union in the case C-648/20 PPU, of 10 March 2021, a judicial review of a prosecutor’s decision to issue a European arrest warrant is only possible in Bulgaria after the requested person is surrendered, not before. The EU law requirements for protecting the rights of a person who is subject of a European arrest warrant are not fulfilled where the warrant issued by a public prosecutor cannot be reviewed by a court in an issuing state prior to the surrender of the requested person by the executing state. The European Court of Human Rights has also called Bulgaria out for non-compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights, particularly due to prosecutor’s detention orders not being subject to judicial review (Zvezdev v Bulgaria).


Judicial review of prosecutors’ decisions to refuse opening investigations was only introduced in May 2023. It extends only to particularly serious crimes and a number of other corruption-related offences. Because of the vertical structure of the prosecutor’s office, the aggrieved party has to first appeal the refusal to investigate before the higher standing prosecutor, and only after the decree is confirmed can it be appealed before the court.


Critics express concern that the European Commission has been overly lenient, issuing sugar-coated reports, often ignoring – and even legitimising – prosecutorial self-aggrandisement. They contend that this approach has undermined the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, a framework designed to help Bulgaria catch up with other Member States in the areas of the rule of law and the fight against corruption.


In its Rule of Law Reports, the European Commission has highlighted some long-standing areas of concern, such as a lack of mechanisms for an effective criminal investigation of the prosecutor general, following up on the pronouncements of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and the Council of Europe on the matter. In Kolevi case, the ECtHR pointed out that no prosecutor would bring charges against the prosecutor general, due to the centralised, hierarchical structure of the prosecution system: the prosecutor general and high-ranking prosecutors could set aside any such decision taken by a subordinate prosecutor or investigator. The judgment also emphasised the fact that the prosecutor general could only be removed from office by the Supreme Judicial Council, some members of which were his subordinates. The ECtHR concluded that it was practically impossible to conduct an independent investigation into circumstances implicating the prosecutor general.


Under the law enacted on 26 May 2023 to fulfil commitments under Bulgaria’s Recovery and Resilience Plan, when grounds exist for starting an investigation against the prosecutor general or their deputies, the Prosecutorial College of the Supreme Judicial Council appoints a randomly selected judge as an ad hoc prosecutor responsible for the investigation. The Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Cassation Court approves the list of candidates from which the ad hoc prosecutor is selected. In the event the prosecutor general or their deputies are indicted, and following the same procedure, a second judge would be appointed to the position of deputy prosecutor general to supervise the acts taken by the first judge appointed as ad hoc prosecutor.


The European Commission acknowledged these changes as positive, referring to the assessments of the Venice Commission and the Committee of Ministers, in the context of the execution of the European Court of Human Rights’ Kolevi judgment. The Venice Commission offered an overall favorable evaluation of the accountability model proposed by the draft law. It concluded that the system would align significantly with the requirements set out in the European Court of Human Rights’ judgments in the Kolevi and S.Z. v Bulgaria cases. Nonetheless, the Commission expressed concern that hierarchical control would enable higher standing prosecutors to exert undue influence over the ad hoc prosecutor, and recommended introducing safeguards to avoid having the latter’s independence undermined.


In June 2023, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers welcomed the long-awaited reform introducing an independent investigation mechanism against the prosecutor general. However, the Committee acknowledged several areas of concern that could undermine the effectiveness of the accountability mechanism, such as the risk of improper use of criminal or disciplinary instruments by the Prosecutorial college of the Supreme Judicial Council (over which the prosecutor general has considerable influence) against the ad hoc prosecutor in charge of investigation, as well as the apparent possibility that the prosecutor general or their deputies (if not a suspect) would review some of the decisions of the ad hoc prosecutor. The Committee invited the authorities to provide their assessment on the need to further strengthen the mechanism of investigation.


Disagreements arose over the constitutionality of the 26 May 2023 amendments, considering the Constitutional Court’s prior case law. On 5 June 2023, the prosecutor general contested the constitutionality of the law.


To conclude, notwithstanding the legal improvements, concerns linger about the practical effectiveness of these accountability mechanisms. The prosecutor general’s influence over the Council and the entire justice system may undermine the entire process. There is a risk that a judge assigned to investigate the prosecutor general will lack integrity or fear retaliation. Observers have flagged that the list of judges that can be entrusted with such investigations (the list compiled by the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Cassation) includes some controversial figures.

National court challenging the primacy of EU law and/or authority of supranational European courts

Bulgarian courts are not contesting the authority and judgments of the supranational European Courts rigorously and systematically, as is the case with the Polish Constitutional Tribunal. Nevertheless, Bulgaria has previously invoked the concept of constitutional identity to support judgments that contradict EU law. One such case revolved around the citizenship and potential stateliness of a child born to a same sex couple – two women, Bulgarian and British nationals, respectively. The Bulgarian authorities denied the couple a birth certificate for their daughter, who was born in Spain, a document that was necessary for obtaining identity papers. The Sofia municipality requested information about the child’s biological mother and father, information necessary under Bulgarian law for the issuing of a birth certificate, and then refused to issue the certificate, based on the contradiction of the same sex marriage with Bulgarian public policy. The parent appealed the decision at the Sofia Administrative Court, which then stayed proceedings and requested a preliminary ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union.


The referring court raised its doubts as to whether by refusing to issue a birth certificate, due to the refusal of the women to indicate which one was the biological mother, the Bulgarian authorities infringed on the child’s rights under the Charter of Fundamental Rights. It also asked whether permitting same-sex parents to be listed on a child’s birth certificate, despite the traditional heterosexual family being deeply established within the Bulgarian Constitution and legal tradition, would adversely affect public policy and the country’s national identity. The referring court proposed, in order to strike a balance between the Bulgarian constitutional and national identity and the child’s right to private life and free movement, that it only accept the inclusion of one of the mothers’ names on the birth certificate.


The CJEU noted that, while the European Union must respect Member States’ national identities, a member state cannot unilaterally determine the scope of public policy without EU oversight. The CJEU resolved the case from the perspective of the best interests of the child, without going into a deeper analysis of national or constitutional identity. The central finding was that if one member state issues a birth certificate to a child designating two persons of the same sex as that child’s parents, other member states are obliged to issue that child an identity card without requiring a birth certificate from its own national authorities, guaranteeing the child freedom of movement across the EU.


The Supreme Administrative Court did not rule in line with the CJEU prescriptions. After the CJEU judgment, the District Court ordered city hall authorities in Sofia to issue a birth certificate, but the Supreme Administrative Court overturned this decision and refused to recognise the child’s Bulgarian citizenship.

Barriers to the Submission of Requests for Preliminary rulings to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU)

Experts have highlighted fear as a major obstacle for judges that are independent and competent in terms of filing requests for preliminary references.

Rankings and Surveys

Expert Recommendations

European Commission, Rule of Law Report, July 2023

Overall, concerning the recommendations in the 2023 Rule of Law Report, Bulgaria has (made):

  • Significant progress on ensuring timely ordinary competitions for promotion to avoid longterm secondment of judges to fill in vacant positions, taking into account European standards on secondment of judges.
  • No progress yet on advancing with the legislative amendments aiming at improving the functioning of the Inspectorate to the Supreme Judicial Council and avoiding the risk of political influence, in particular by involving judicial bodies in the selection of its members.
  • No progress yet on taking steps to adapt the composition of the Supreme Judicial Council, taking into account European standards on Councils for the Judiciary


On this basis, and considering other developments that took place in the period of reference, and in addition to recalling the commitments made under the national Recovery and Resilience Plan relating to certain aspects of the justice system and the anti-corruption framework, it is recommended to Bulgaria to:

  • Take steps to adapt the relevant legislative framework to avoid long-term secondment of judges to fill in vacant positions, taking into account European standards on secondment of judges.
  • Advance with the preparation of legislative amendments aiming at improving the functioning of the Inspectorate to the Supreme Judicial Council and avoiding the risk of political influence, in particular by involving judicial bodies in the selection of its members.
  • Step up efforts to adapt the composition of the Supreme Judicial Council, taking into account European standards on Councils for the Judiciary.
Fourth Evaluation Round, Second Compliance Report, Corruption prevention, 2019

Adopted by GRECO at its 84th Plenary Meeting (Strasbourg, 2-6 December 2019)


  • 12. GRECO recommended that, in order to help the Supreme Judicial Council to fully assert its legitimacy and credibility and to strengthen its role as guarantor of the independence of judges, decisions on judges’ appointment, career, attestation and discipline should be taken by a composition of the Council that is made up of a majority of judges elected by their peers.
  • 13. GRECO recalls that recommendation v was considered partly implemented according to the Compliance Report, as the Judges’ College had been established within the Judicial Council and that six of its members were directly elected by their peers. That said, the number of judges elected by their peers was still less than half of the total number of members of the Judicial College and saw a risk of undue influence from outside the judiciary. The proportion of members elected by the National Assembly in the Judges College remained high, thus posing a risk of politicisation of decisions concerning judges’ careers and of possible undue influence of the National Assembly on the careers of judges.
  • 15. As no legislative or practical measures have been taken, or envisaged by the authorities to further address this recommendation, GRECO maintains its opinion that owing to the current composition of the Supreme Judicial Council, the situation remains the same now as it was at the time of the adoption of the Compliance Report.
  • 16. GRECO concludes that recommendation v remains partly implemented.

Compliance with European Courts' Judgements

Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU)

State Performance


Number of unimplemented CJEU rulings related to the judiciary

Notable comments

C-648/20 PPU of 10 March 2021, ECLI:EU:C:2021:187

In that judgment, the CJEU declared that European Arrest Warrants issued by the Prosecutor’s Office of Bulgaria and European Arrest Warrants based on national arrest warrants issued by the Prosecutor’s Office that have not been subjected to judicial oversight are incompatible with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (Article 47).

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European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)

State Performance

Very serious problem

Implementation record


Number of leading judgments pending implementation Very High

55 %

Percentage of leading judgements from the last 10 years still pending implementation High



Average time leading judgments have been pending implementation High
Non-Implementation of European Courts Judgments and the Rule of Law | EIN & DRI

Judgements with pending implementation

Selected on relevance to the judiciary / rule of law

Miroslava Todorova v. Bulgaria,

The case concerns the bringing of disciplinary proceedings and sanctions against the president of the judges’ association, in retaliation against her criticism of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) and the executive, constituting a restriction of her freedom of expression for unauthorised purposes (to penalise and silence her on account of her criticism of the SJC and the executive).

The applicant, a judge and president of the magistrates’ professional association, was disciplinarily sanctioned (by being demoted to a lower-level court and having her salary reduced) by the Bulgarian Supreme Judicial Council (SJC). The Court found that this was done as retaliation for criticising the SJC and the executive for, inter alia, the appointment of a court of appeal president who was suspected of corruption, and suspicions of corruption on the part of SJC members in relation to procedures for the promotion of magistrates. The Court concluded that Todorova had been subjected to abusive restrictions, and that her freedom of expression as a magistrate had been violated.

The Miroslava Todorova judgment has been pending before the Committee of Ministers since January 2022. The Bulgarian authorities have already requested, in September 2022, that the supervision of this case be ended, arguing that it is of an isolated nature.

View case details



Kolevi v Bulgaria,

The Kolevi case was centred around the lack of guarantees in Bulgarian law for the independence of criminal investigations concerning the Chief Prosecutor and “high-ranking officials close to him.” At the latest examination of this group of cases (1468th meeting (5-7 June 2023), the Committee of Ministers commented on the most recent reforms of 26 May 2023. The Committee welcomed the adoption of the reform introducing a mechanism for the independent investigation of a Chief Prosecutor, which provided for key safeguards to respond within the existing constitutional framework to Kolevi judgment. The Committee also encouraged authorities to provide their assessment as to whether it is necessary to further strengthen the mechanism concerning the investigation of the Chief Prosecutor within the existing constitutional framework. The Committee decided to resume the consideration of these cases at their 1475th meeting (September 2023) (DH).

View case details