by Anthony Georgieff

Ruling 'fixture' quickly becomes laughing stock

bulgarian traffic cop.jpg

Notwithstanding the amendments to the Constitution proposed by Nikolay Denkov's "fixture" (the word he uses to describe the government), several bits of legislation put forward by the rulers and quickly voted into law have raised eyebrows and prompted a significant amount of laughter. Critics have viewed them not as just poorly thoughtover and hastily fixed (pun unintended) pieces of legal literature but as evidence that in spite of the huge claims of competence by the PP-DB "clever and beautiful" intellectuals the goods actually delivered have been at least substandard.

An atrocious case of a sadistically mutilated young woman in Stara Zagora spawned a public outcry. Initially, the local courts just let the perpetrator go free, citing the current laws that did not envisage "domestic violence" outside families. Sensing the onslaught of popular discontent – the case will probably go down in history as one of the most heinous in latterday Bulgaria – the PP-DB quickly forged an amendment to expand the concept of "domestic violence." Now, to "qualify" for domestic violence, a case should entail... an "intimate relationship."

You've read that right. The Bulgarian Parliament has introduced a legal concept for intimate relationships. This is the exact wording: "An intimate relationship is the aggregation of voluntary, lasting, personal, intimate and sexual relations between two natural person of male and female sex, regardless of whether they share a household, and whose commencement, contents and termination have not been regulated by another law. 'Lasting' is determined as continuing for at least 60 days."

The initial anger of the public caused by the Stara Zagora case quickly turned into amusement. Dozens of jokes about "intimate relationships" were put into circulation. Bogus "forms" designed to prove the commencement of an "intimate relationship" between consenting adults appeared on the Internet.

On a more serious note, legal experts were quick to point out that the new PP-DB law was plainly unconstitutional. Speaking specifically of persons of a male and female sex, it clearly excluded all LGBT, a unapologetic act of discrimination which is at loggerheads with the Universal Human Rights Charter and is prohibited by the Bulgarian Constitution.

Another, equally silly law passed by the PP-DB concerns DUI driving. DUI driving, usually involving alcohol but increasingly drugs, is a serious problem on Bulgarian roads. In recent years it has caused many incidents, including some with lethal outcome.

In their quest to produce an appearance that they are doing something good for the public except wanting to get the Red Army Monument in central Sofia knocked down, the PP-DB decided to tackle the DUI issue speedily and resolutely. They amended the Traffic Law to enable the police to seize vehicles driven by DUI drivers.

Most of the public received the amendment well. Drunken drivers should be punished severely if they are a threat to public safety, the people of Sofia, Plovdiv, Burgas and the smaller towns surmised. But the uneasy questions were quick to follow.

What if a DUI driver drives a car that is not his or her property? What if it is a company car? What if it is a company long-haul truck? What if the vehicle is jointly owned by a husband and wife (regardless of the "intimate relationship" status discussed above)?

The initial public endorsement quickly turned into bemused discontent. To start off with, in a place like Bulgaria any new or additional regulation, especially if the Traffic Police are involved, is seen as yet another gateway to corruption.

Plainly put, the inconsistency of the new law seems to outshine its declared purposes, to inflict just punishment on DUI drivers and make the roads safer.

Any confiscation of a vehicle should be done following a court ruling. One of the prerequisites for a proper court trial is a valid blood test done in a laboratory, in addition to the breathalyser on the road the traffic police handle. A blood and narcotics test in Bulgaria is done in... three laboratories, two in Sofia and one in Varna. Results usually take months to come out.

During those months a driver will be left without a driving license and a car. And if the blood test, which is without a question a lot more reliable than the breathalyser, is negative he or she will have the option to sue the police for unlawful seizure of property. A court case against the police will likely take years...

What lawyers advise at the moment is never to sign a protocol for voluntary forfeiture of your vehicle if you are suspected of DUI. Such a protocol will have the legal power to thwart your later actions against the cops.

Perhaps the most ridiculous proposal by the PP-DB – so far just a proposal – introduces the concept of individual claims to the Constitutional Court. If adopted, the amendment will enable any Bulgarian, who feels his or her Constitutional rights have been infringed upon, to file a complaint with the Constitutional Court. Sounds good, right?!

Trouble is, the Constitutional Court is not a part of the Bulgarian justice administration system at all. The Constitutional Court has no power to repeal rulings by other courts, nor to dictate to them what to do. Its decisions cannot be enforced by for example a bailiff or the police. The purpose of the Bulgarian Constitutional Court is to interpret whether any act of the state or its agencies, including the legal amendments and proposed bills, do not go against the basic law. Whether the agency found to be at fault complies with the Constitutional Court ruling is entirely optional. Bad news for the hundreds of Bulgarians who started sharpening their pencils to file complaints about their presumably infringed Constitutional rights.

The political question about the "Intimate Relationship" act, the DUI amendments and the individual Constitutional Court complaints has two sides. Are the PP-DB legal "experts," who claim Western education in top law schools, so silly? Or is the PP-DB in a rush just to manifest some kind of activity and reassure its supporters that it is doing something meaningful ahead of the local elections scheduled for October?


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