Working meetings of Bulgarian and Turkish magistrates

On September 13-14, 2006, working meetings of Bulgarian and Turkish magistrates were held in the town of Haskovo. The meetings, which aimed to establish contacts and exchange information on trans-border crime detection, investigation and punishment, were organized by the Center for the Study of Democracy and Haskovo District Court.

The Turkish representatives comprised 14 judges and 14 prosecutors from Edirne and Kirklareli, 2 Ministry of Justice officials based in Ankara, and an official from the British Embassy in Ankara, which supported the organization of the visit.

The Bulgarian magistrates who took part in the meeting were: Ms. Radka Petrova, Chair of the Plovdiv Court of Appeal and member of the Supreme Judicial Council, the chairs of the district courts in Pazardzhik – Mr. Georgi Shopov, and Smolyan – Ms. Radka Svirkova, the chair of the Plovdiv Military Court Col. Rumen Katrev, judges and prosecutors from Haskovo and Svilengrad, among them Mr. Rosen Rusev, Chair of Haskovo District Court, Mr. Ivan Vanchev, administrative head of Haskovo District Prosecution Office, and Mr. Margirit Kamburov, regional prosecutor from Svilengrad.

The Center for the Study of Democracy was represented by its Law Program Director Ms. Maria Yordanova, Mr. Dimitar Markov, Law Program Coordinator, and Mr. Tihomir Bezlov, Senior Analyst at the Center. The meetings were also attended by Bulgarian Judges Association Executive Secretary and Supreme Court of Cassation judge Mr. Borislav Belazelkov. Their task was to present the goals and activities planned under the project for enhancing border security between Bulgaria, Turkey and Macedonia through reinforcing criminal justice in border districts, and to chair the working meetings. Participants were briefed on the structure and powers of court and prosecution in Bulgaria and Turkey, on the dynamics of trans-border crime, and on the factors that promote and impede counteraction to particular trans-border crimes. Both delegations agreed that they need to study in greater detail the judicial system of their neighbouring country, especially criminal justice and criminal law.

The plenary meetings were complemented by team consultations between Bulgarian and Turkish judges and prosecutors respectively where the particular challenges related to trans-border crime and the way those can be address by the two branches of the judiciary were discussed. The fair measure of partnership between law enforcement and the prosecution so far has led to certain successful actions against organized trans-border crime. However, there are obstacles that still hamper cooperation, among them: the drawn-out procedure through which Turkish magistrates obtain permission to visit Bulgaria, the delay in performing actions requested by either judiciary that has to be authorized by the Ministry of Justice in both countries, the impossibility of using unofficially obtained intelligence as evidence in court (which is usually the case with information exchanged between the two judicial systems), etc.

The closing meeting served to present the outcomes of the two-day talks and the agreements achieved on several points: to exchange regular information on judicial and legal reforms in both countries, to initiate relevant measures for speeding up information supply on cases of trans-border crime through establishing a formal mechanism for meetings of judiciary officials, updating the legal assistance agreement between Turkey and Bulgaria, making full use of cooperation opportunities under multilateral legal agreements signed by the two countries (e.g., the European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters), holding joint trainings and expert discussions on the most common types of trans-border crime (drugs and human trafficking, smuggling, etc.) for Bulgarian and Turkish judges, prosecutors, police and customs officers.

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