How Has the Bulgarian Legal System Progressed?

We speak to Tcvetanka Boteva about how Bulgaria has progressed in terms of its legal system.

She touches on how since the EU accession of Bulgaria, the national legislation has been in a process of harmonisation with the EU legislation, yet how there remains to be a need for a more harmonised unity throughout the member states.

In the past twenty-one years I have been working as a lawyer. I have been a member of the Plovdiv Bar (Plovdiv is the second biggest city in Bulgaria) and a free-lance barrister. During this period of 21 years, I have also been working with a team of technical assistants and trainees. The dynamics and pressure at work have been varied. The main focus, however, has invariably been on the client and the client’s interest. I have always aimed at providing the best possible protection to my clients and their rights, whatever the case. The time factor has also always been of great importance – clients are always in a hurry – to submit documents, to close procedures, to have their problems solved.

At the beginning of my career, I remember having clients who, following the statutory procedures, set up their own companies in the UK. I remember them saying that the procedure in the UK was quite simple, straightforward, not requiring great funds – you just apply through the proper channels and then wait to have all the registration papers delivered by mail.

After certain changes in the legislation and the introduction of the Commercial Register, this is already a fact in our country, too. In this respect, the time needed to set up and register a commercial company has been reduced to just a few days. These changes, however, drastically reduced the workload of lawyers in connection with company incorporation. Nowadays anyone can register a company with minimal efforts – proprietors, their agents, accountants, etc.

However, the cases of business-to-business indebtedness and insolvency of proprietors and commercial companies have become more common and more serious. It seems that the global crisis of 2008 heavily affected our country, and caused numerous companies and financial institutions to go bankrupt.

It seems that the global crisis of 2008 heavily affected our country, and caused numerous companies and financial institutions to go bankrupt.

It had an adverse effect on each sphere, on each profession. The client’s interest was slightly dimmed by the concern about whether the client would be able to pay the due legal fees, and, respectively, if my interest would be guaranteed. If the client is a company owner with ‘blocked’ accounts, then it is a really hard question…

Natural person(s) also are a cause of concern: to them, the limit for using attorneys’ services is the use of the services of a legal assistant assigned to them, but such assistance is provided only in certain criminal procedures.

In Civil Law, when a party cannot be duly served at the last known address, or cannot be represented for explicitly specified reasons, then a special legal assistant is assigned. In all other cases, legal assistance is not guaranteed, except in some cases specifically stipulated by some special law, where the issue is explicitly regulated “the party is represented by…”. Consequently, the client’s interest, my own interest, and last but not least, the evaluation of the client’s necessity of legal advice, are the leading factors.

In many cases, the party seeking legal advice has already read information on the topic in newspapers or other media, has talked to a friend with a similar problem, or has found information on a similar case on the internet. So the challenges are quite big, and quite different from the time when I started my career in this field, equipped with a typewriter and a landline, whereas nowadays, every potential client who would like to use my services has already ‘informed’ him/herself using the phone in their pocket about ‘everything’.

Now I have to be a lot more assertive to convince the client of my competence and of the fact that I am the one who can help them find their way in the labyrinth of jurisprudence. Self-confidence is the key: that of the person who thinks he/she is able to cope, and that of the one who actually copes professionally on a daily basis, and who is always striving after being aware of any and all changes in laws and procedures, and keeping abreast of all the latest developments in the field of law.

Self-confidence is the key: that of the person who thinks he/she is able to cope, and that of the one who actually copes professionally on a daily basis, and who is always striving after being aware of any and all changes in laws and procedures, and keeping abreast of all the latest developments in the field of law.

Since the EU accession of Bulgaria, our national legislation has been in a process of harmonization with the EU legislation. This new development has called for the continuous training of all actively practising lawyers – judges, prosecutors, investigators and attorneys-at-law.

In recent years, several institutes have been set up specifically for training in this field. In addition, there is the mandatory practice of the European Court of Human Rights and the judicial decisions issued. It takes time for these practices to be adopted by the local courts of law.

What is more, it is a gradual process. The time when judges had at their disposal collections of court judgments and decisions issued by the supreme courts is long gone. But back then, that was the established mandatory practice. The work done by judges using typewriters and collections of past judgments is a thing of the past. Now the court of law employ computer specialists to ensure the maintenance and support of computers and systems which facilitate the functioning of the respective court of law.

It is quite a challenge nowadays to stand before the judge in the courtroom and convince this well-informed judge of your arguments, to substantiate a claim, and even establish new legal practices. Thus modern jurisprudence is already a global one; what I mean is the court rulings passed by European courts of law and their practices. And it exactly in the misunderstanding /or lack of understanding/ of European legal norms and their prompt transposition into the local legislation. This is a slow process entailing the specific and qualified efforts of many people working on harmonizing our legislation with the EU one.

It may sound quite brave and daring, but I believe it would be easier if those processes to a certain degree and some procedures were universal for all member-states. What I mean is the following: without mentioning specific people, I would like to share with you the following case: Some time ago, I was retained by a client – a Bulgarian citizen who had been living in France for nearly twenty years and working there under an employment contract. For convenience, I will call him “Stoyan Stoyanov”. So this man was a permanent resident of Bulgaria and had a clean criminal record. On returning to Bulgaria with his family for the summer holidays, he was detained pursuant to a European Arrest Warrant (EAW). After I acquainted myself with this warrant, I established that it had been sent from another member-state in connection with a tax crime committed by a company whose manager was called Stoyan Stoyanov, on the territory of that country. In essence, any fiscal offence is a crime against the fiscal system of the EU. In this respect, such cases in the Republic of Bulgaria attract the interest of the public, so the court tries to do its job accurately and thoroughly.

It may sound quite brave and daring, but I believe it would be easier if those processes to a certain degree and some procedures were universal for all member-states.

In this particular case, however, there was a significant discrepancy: the period during which the foreign legal entity had been managed by Stoyan Stoyanov was different from the period during which the alleged tax crime had been committed. In my plea, I repeatedly drew the attention of the district court to this discrepancy, but the grounds pointed out by the court were: ‘We have no powers to comment on the EAW in question’.

By analogy and only and on the basis of an online reference, a local court in Germany ( I shall refrain from mentioning the name of a self-proclaimed political leader of the third country who was in exile in Germany) also refused to comply with EAW on grounds connected with the essence of the EAW, and did not repatriate the person in question to the competent authorities in his home country. In my case, however, this did not happen; Stoyan Stoyanov was not extradited to Germany under the EAW. Stoyan Stoyanov was subsequently released, and no charges were pressed. What he and his family suffered, however, cannot be compensated. It was Mr Stoyanov’s first appearance before any court; he had never been arrested before, let alone extradited and detained.

I am sharing this case hoping that in the course of harmonization it is possible to establish procedures allowing me, for example, as his attorney, to represent Mr Stoyanov in this case until its end and closure. My client was a Bulgarian living in France and tried in Germany. Why can’t there be harmonized rules for lawyers in such cases? Lawyers should be able to collect and request proofs and documental evidence from France and Germany, and cases should be tried in Bulgaria. I also ask myself the question of whether the EU fiscal system would be affected adversely by the two court procedures in Germany and in Bulgaria, both being EU members? EU rules are the same, aren’t they? And problems ensue from the transposition of certain norms and their harmonization with the national legislation.

Back in 1988 I was still at school, and perhaps I had already heard of John Atanasov, the inventor of the computer. In 1998, I would have my first laptop. Since then, I have had several computers, and there must be thousands of computers used in the different units and departments of the legal system, each computer more powerful than the other, with faster and more powerful processors, and with the tendency to introducing 5G Internet by 2022. This is yet another challenge we are faced with.

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