Bulgaria Table of Contents
Members of the highest national judicial body, the Supreme Court, were elected to five-year terms by the National Assembly. Until 1990, however, National Assembly approval really meant control by the State Council, hence by the BCP. The national court system was divided into criminal, civil, and military courts; the Supreme Court had jurisdiction in both original and appellate cases, and it controlled the activities of all lower courts. The 1971 constitution called the court system and state prosecutor's office "weapons of the dictatorship of the proletariat." The chief prosecutor, chief legal official of Bulgaria, was responsible for compliance with the law by ordinary citizens, local and national political entities and officials, and other public organizations. The powers of this office were extended by law in 1980 in an effort to forestall public dissatisfaction with the crime prevention system. Like the justices of the Supreme Court, the chief prosecutor served at the approval of the State Council. Together with the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the chief prosecutor provided absolute BCP control of the Bulgarian judicial system until 1990. The election of all judicial officials further guaranteed this control.
Lower courts functioned at the provincial and municipal levels; election was by people's councils at the provincial level and directly by citizens at the municipal level, using party-approved lists. In 1990 each of Bulgaria's provinces (including Sofia) had a province court. The 105 provincal courts tried minor offenses. Both professional judges and lay assessors sat in the lower courts. Specialized disputes were heard outside the regular court system. For example, international trade cases went to the Foreign Trade Court of Arbitration of the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, civil disputes among enterprises and public organizations were heard by the State Court of Arbitration, and labor disputes were settled by the conciliation committees of enterprises.
Criticized before and after the fall of Zhivkov, the Bulgarian justice system changed little with the reform programs of 1990 and 1991. The round table resolutions of early 1990 alluded only to separation of the judicial, legislative, and executive branches to avoid concentration of power in any single branch. However, establishment of an independent, authoritative judiciary would be complicated by the universal view, instilled by forty-five years of complete control by the BCP, that the Bulgarian court system was only an extension of the state's executive power. In a 1991 poll, only 1.7 percent of Bulgarians expressed trust in the courts and the prosecutor's office. In 1990 the youngest judges were over forty years old, and the most talented had left for other careers because of the short term of office, poor pay, low professional status, and party control. In late 1990, Judge Dimitur Lozanchev became the first politically neutral chairman of the Supreme Court since World War II.
Data as of June 1992