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Bulgaria: Penal System
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Law and Order > Penal System


In 1991 the court system operated basically as it had before 1989. The administration of justice was based on the penal code of 1968 and several subsequent amendments to it, and on the constitution of 1971. In general the courts had little independence and the Ministry of Justice had few powers under the former regime. In 1991, however, the National Assembly was considering draft laws on penal procedure, punishment, courts, amnesty, state secrets, and travel abroad. It sought to guarantee accused persons access to defense counsel during each phase of the legal process, to eliminate detention on suspicion, and to ensure that three judges and four lay jurors, called assessors, would preside over trials involving particularly grievous crimes in which the death penalty would be a possible sentence.

The court system consisted of municipal, provincial, and military courts, the Supreme Court, and public prosecutors at corresponding levels. The National Assembly elected the judges of the Supreme Court, its president, and the chief prosecutor to fiveyear terms. The chief prosecutor selected and supervised prosecutors to serve at the municipal and province levels and enforced compliance with legal standards by the government, its officials, and all citizens, prosecuting cases involving major crimes detrimental to the national interests or economy of Bulgaria. Judges at lower levels were elected to five-year terms by their respective constituencies. Conciliation committees in enterprises or municipal courts ruled on labor disputes. The arbitration court adjudicated civil cases and disputes between enterprises.

Under the penal code inherited from the Zhivkov era, crimes against the socialist economy or socialist property generally were punished more severely than crimes against persons. Major economic crimes, misappropriation, and serious malfeasance were punished rigorously. Directors and managers could be held criminally liable for the shortcomings of their enterprises. Six-year prison terms were levied for crimes such as conducting private economic activity while representing a state enterprise and receiving economic benefits for work or services not rendered. Illegally crossing national borders was punishable by a fine of 3,000 leva and a fiveyear prison term, with heavier penalties for recidivists. In the reform period, an increasing number of minor offenses were changed to receive administrative punishments such as fines up to 300 leva. These administrative proceedings represented rather arbitrary justice because the accused did not have the right to trial or legal counsel. The administrative proceedings were an expedient designed to alleviate a tremendous backlog of minor cases. Beginning in 1990, the dismantling of the state enterprise system called for shifting the emphasis of the criminal code from protection of state property to protection of the individual. This shift was attempted in the new constitution ratified by the National Assembly in July 1991. Independence of the judicial system, needed to standardize and clarify the administration of justice, received little attention in initial rounds of reform, however.

Data as of June 1992

Last Updated: June 1992

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Bulgaria was first published in 1992. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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