Lozan Panov casus – the double standards on morality in the judicial systemDaniel Petrov , Sofia
Just days ago, we witnessed an unprecedented event in the modern history of Bulgarian democracy. One of the Big Three in the judiciary was conclusively found guilty of wrongdoing – by the same judicial system over whose management he has influence as a chairperson of the Judges’ College of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) at that. Let us remind the facts:
– In 2017 Lozan Panov, president of the Supreme Court of Cassation (SCC), refused to file a property statement with the Bulgarian National Audit Office and thus disclose information about his financial situation during the previous year;
– Panov was subsequently fined BGN 1,000 by the National Audit Office;
– Panov then appealed the fine before the Sofia District Court, arguing that the Anti-Corruption Commission for Illegal Assets Forfeiture (part of which became the Audit Office’s directorate for transparency of high-level officials’ property) should not have fined him;
– Sofia District Court judge Angel Pavlov (whose career development in the judicial system is directly dependent on Lozan Panov, who chairs by rights the Judges’ College of the SJC) decided that the law is on the side of ACCIAF;
– Lozan Panov disagreed with Judge Pavlov and challenged his decision to uphold the fine before the Administrative Court, Sofia City – an institution he managed about ten years ago. The court came up with a final ruling that Panov was rightfully fined;
– Ultimately, the President of the SCC was deemed to have violated the Law on Transparency of Property of High-Level Officials, which was repealed while the legal battle was taking place with the coming into force of the Anti-Corruption Act.
Actually, it could be argued that the so-called Judge №1 also violated the Judicial System Act, since his extremely public refusal to disclose his property before the National Audit Office probably constitutes conduct detrimental to the image of the judicial system, which is in breach of the Code of Ethics signed by the Bulgarian magistrates.
Everything mentioned above unequivocally warranted a response by the organisation claiming to represent the interests of the Bulgarian judges – the Bulgarian Judges Association (BJA). I decided to look for its official position on its website. At first, Google directed me to the website of the Union of the Blind in Bulgaria (which has the same abbreviation in Bulgarian) – perhaps that misdirection is more meaningful than it might seem. On my next try I got to the right place – the section containing the official positions of the judges’ organisation. There, (un)surprisingly, there was a deafening silence. No position expressed by Kalin Kalpakchiev, head of the organisation and a judge in the Sofia Court of Appeal (SCA) as well as a former member of the SJC. There was absolutely no response to Panov’s case, which was deeply disgraceful for the judiciary, and the upholding of his fine by two different courts.
However, there were two other texts on the BJA website, which piqued my interest. One concerned intervention in the legislature’s work regarding an upcoming vote on a bill amending the Judicial System Act. The other text was about intervention in the work of the Judges’ College of the SJC because of its refusal to hear eight disgruntled judges from the city of Blagoevgrad.
This is why I find it appropriate to ask the “protectors” of the magistrates’ interests:
1. Why don’t you ask Lozan Panov to officially explain his actions? Not to mention that you could have subpoenaed him and demanded that he should take personal responsibility.
2. As an organisation known to regularly invite US magistrates as lecturers, shouldn’t the BJA provide a comparative analysis – what would happen in the US, if a supreme court judge is found guilty of breaking the law, especially when it comes to a sore subject as disclosure of income and property?
3. What would have been your reaction had a similar case came up in Romania – if the BJA’s idol Laura Kovesi (former head of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate), for example, went after a local supreme court judge and the magistrate in question hit back by suing the country’s anti-corruption agency?
4. Why do you insist that the SJC should hear less than a third of the judges in the Blagoevgrad Regional Court about an issue that is within the competence of their administrative leader an yet refuse to urge the Judges’ College to seek explanation from Lozan Panov?
5. How much longer is the BJA going to tell MPs what kind of laws to adopt and is such a behaviour not in violation of the principle of separation of powers? If you so insist to have legislative initiatives, why don’t you run as an organisation in the next election? After all, the former constitutional court judge Rumen Nenkov did describe you as a political party.
6. How much longer are you going to argue that politicians and media outlets have no right to comment on court decisions and make comparisons – like the fact that in Germany the individuals incriminated in fraud involving funds under the SAPARD programme in Bulgaria have already served their prison time, while everyone tried in Bulgaria as part of that same case was found not guilty – while you continue to pester MPs for their legislative initiatives and members of the SJC for their perfectly well-argued decisions.
It is high time that the BJA realised that real life and the problems of magistrates and citizens do not come down to the interests of a top crust tied up in all sorts of dependencies and that the double standard of morality demonstrated by the president of the Supreme Court of Cassation as well as in scrutinising his actions is to the detriment of not only the judicial system but society as a whole. Perhaps the Google misdirection is somewhat reflective of the truth – that the BJA has become the Union of the Blind in Bulgaria (let the blind and the visually impaired in Bulgaria forgive me) – because Panov’s case against the National Audit Office/ACCIAF and his comments on the casus have betrayed the hatred for the judges’ community that the so-called judge №1 seems to harbour.
Daniel Petrov is a PhD student in political science. The topics of his research are in the field of Bulgarian political process and social transformations following the 1989-1991 regime change and the problematic areas in the relations between government, institutions and citizens. His professional interests are in the organisation and management of election campaigns, producing TV programmes for political journalism, and drafting strategic analyses and concepts in the field of public policies. The article was originally published by Legal World.