International judicial watchdog says it suspects judge was axed for protesting against government interference in the courts and for suing Bulgaria’s Interior Minister.The International Commission of Jurists, ICJ, an international human rights NGO, has expressed concern over the dismissal of Judge Miroslava Todorova by Bulgaria’s Supreme Judicial Council.
Without a hearing, the Supreme Judicial Council dismissed Todorova on July 12 for disciplinary reasons over her “unreasonable delay of proceedings”.However, it is widely that her criticism of the Supreme Judicial Council and the libel suit she has filed against the Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov triggered the move.
“In her capacity as Chairperson of the Bulgarian Judges Association, Judge Todorova has publicly highlighted problems in the Bulgarian judicial system and has been a leading critic of the SJC,” the ICJ said in a statement.
“She has drawn attention to the repeated verbal attacks on the judiciary by members of the Government, in particular by the Minister of the Interior, which pose a threat to judicial independence in the country,” the ICJ added.
“The ICJ considers that the case against Judge Todorova may involve a misuse of the judicial disciplinary process to remove a judge due to her publicly expressed concerns at government interference with judicial independence,” it added.
“Such misuse of the disciplinary process is contrary to the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, which protect the freedom of expression of judges (Principle 8) and the freedom of judges to form and join professional associations of judges, including for the purpose of protecting their independence (Principle 9).”
The ICJ recalled that long delays are endemic in the Bulgarian justice system, and the delay in Todorova’s cases is therefore not unusual.
The ICJ has also called on the Bulgarian authorities to ensure that both the institutional and personal independence of judges is upheld and that appropriate measures are taken to enable judges to carry out their function without intimidation.
It also asks the government to ensure that Judge Todorova enjoys a fair appeals process, in line with international standards, against the decision of the Supreme Judicial Council and that if her appeal is successful, she is reinstated.