Galin Popov: Without e-Justice, There Is No True Judicial Reform

Galin Popov

Galin Popov

Pursuant to a Supreme Judicial Council’s (SJC) order, less than a month ago you presented recommendations on the rules and regulations the e-Justice of Bulgaria is going to work on. What are the e-Justice’s chances – who will benefit from it; are there any hindrances a certain social group not to be able to benefit from it?

The government adopted strategic documents brining e-Justice as a priority although it may look a bit aside from the planned amendments in the judicial system. This was confirmed by the already successfully completed key projects in this regard. The Popov&Partners team conducted several such projects and that’s why I can boldly state chances of completing the e-justice are quite good. I do not think it may hinder certain „social groups” although it is likely possible some individuals may not like this idea – people who are not open and eager to embrace technical innovations. In fact, digitalization of justice shall provide more transparency and promptness when exchanging information. Here the question is not related only to the court cases but also on the processes of administration of judiciary. The huge majority of ordinary citizens and practicing attorneys are the engine of the reform since e-justice shall serve us all. That makes me an optimist about this part of the so desired judicial reform.

Galin Popov and Emiliyan Arnaudov

Galin Popov and Emiliyan Arnaudov

Does a law office have the capacity of handling such a large-scale project?

When people hear about a law office, their immediate association is 4-5 attorneys who show up in the court room and occasionally advise people about a business or property deal. Our concept is to provide all legal services outside the field of criminal law. The team has been structured in 9 industry-specialized sub-departments: „Banks, Finance and Securities”, „Real Estate, Construction, Agriculture and Environment”, „Tax and Administrative Law”, „Public Procurement”, „Public-Private Partnership”, „Concessions and Industrial Property”, „Regulations and Competition”, „Me&A, Privatization, Corporate and Labour Law”, „Legal and Arbitration Disputes”, „Bankruptcy” and „Out of Court Debt Collection”. After such a list, a law office is definitely something more than the classical image of legal protection and advice.

Our customers are not only individuals and companies: we work with banks, utility companies and many government institutions requesting external expertise on specific projects. We try to stand for the „Good Practices. Effective Institutions. Successful Business” motto.

Please tell us briefly about the projects you have participated in.

As I already mentioned, upgrading justice requires multiple consecutive steps. At the end of 2013 we won and later completed a project entitled „Improving the Transparency and Efficiency of the Supreme Administrative Court”. As a final product, we presented a detailed analysis of the examined good practices of Supreme Courts in Germany, Spain and Portugal.

Unsurprisingly, most member states have walked our road long time ago and have already developed a working model. But is it applicable here, in Bulgaria?

Except for the quoted countries, we analyzed other legal systems of well-developed administrative justice: Austria, Estonia and Luxembourg, to mention just a few. Our strategic advantage is the presence of actually functioning good models – i. e. instead of trying to find the right way for years, we can choose the best and most appropriate model of all employed good practices and implement it adapted to our requirements. Our office provides defense in a large number of administrative and commercial cases and our experience shows nothing but a decisive legislative will is necessary for many of the so-desired changes. For example, there is no way for us to always receive qualitative and fair final court resolutions under administrative cases when magistrates to issuing these resolutions are overloaded with heaps of countless file cases. The problem could be solved to a great extent with the introduction of the mandatory legal representation before the Supreme Administrative Court – similar to the arrangements of the Civil Procedural Code. Currently for a loose bit of paper with illegible handwriting saying „complaint”, a whole procedure is activated paid by all tax-payers while burdening the Court as well. It is possible to use the mechanism of proportionally increasing state fees – after a certain case has been discussed by at least two court institutions. Still, appealing to the Supreme Administrative Court implies quite an important dispute – and it in turn justifies the higher fee as a guarantee the appeal or complaint is not simply a stubborn act of one’s strong will.

In this regard, you have probably seen ways – other countries’ experience – to ease the overloaded Supreme Judicial Institution?

We support the establishment of a new administrative court – tentatively called „Central” – and it should be the second and last institution for most administrative cases. Thus only the most significant administrative disputes would be subject to resolving by the Supreme Administrative Court. In Portugal, for example, this model has been successfully implemented and they have these two bodies working there – a North and a South Central Administrative Court.

After completing the project on improving transparency and efficiency in the work of the Supreme Administrative Court, what still needs to be upgraded?

In the last couple of years the Supreme Administrative Court was beneficiary of several projects financed by EU funds. Until recently, administrative courts were connected into a single filing and information system. In my opinion, the workload of the Court has quite improved. Still, the more effective approach would be a centralized system of filing. Although being the last stage, the Supreme Administrative Court is yet one of the many court bodies and it is not responsible for the overall administrative justice. Introduction of modern information systems and technologies – i. e. completing the reform of e-Justice to a great extend would lead to the remaining anticipated changes in this sector. Speaking of reforms and sectors, I would like to once again underline these issues cannot be solved by each individual court body; neither by a group of courts – they should be solved as a whole and centralized methodology. Fortunately, working on patches seems to have been left in the past and it in turn is about to embrace large-scale and comprehensive projects – both by SJC and the Ministry of Justice.

What would be the practical effect of the introduction of e-justice under the SJC project? How would it affect the staff working in the Courts, the public, the administrative bodies, the business and lawyers?

In the question itself you have already defined the stakeholders of the project Popov&Partners participated in. Law has a specific trait: conservative attitude; every change is considered difficult. Trials though should not be conducted the way they used to be a century ago. Law is a reflection of the working public relations, a reflection of reality. Nowadays reality is different; technologies have conquered every part of our lives. It is high time they started helping in the field of justice. Think about it: how often you use postal services in your daily work, and how often do you use your e-mail? Europe has long introduced electronic submission of documents to Courts – both lawyers and ordinary citizens can do it; witnesses are called to Court by e-mail. Whole trials are conducted remotely – in a much easier and faster way. E-justice to a great extend ensures access– a faster access – to justice. As we well know, the European Court of Human Rights more than once has stated: slow justice is a type of denial of justice. In addition, costs and expenses in having e-trials are much lower than using the conventional paper files.

E-justice would be a strong incentive in attracting foreign investments in Bulgaria; it will create conditions for the development of Bulgarian companies. It is of key importance for the business to enjoy more effective and transparent

justice – in order to achieve a better business environment.


Please allow me to ask you the following: how can e-justice affect effectiveness and promptness in court trail resolutions and their implementation?

About a year ago we signed an agreement with the Ministry of Justice, entitled „Research and analysis of the current systems of judicial enforcement in EU member states” – a research study and exchange of good European practices related to the establishment of an enforcement platform [portal]. In the course of executing the agreement, our team of experts studied and analyzed existing electronic systems of enforcement in 7 member states. In addition, we got to see on site Portugal’s experience – along with Spain and Estonia, Portugal is among the leaders in the field of e-justice. I do hope in the near future we are going to have integrated systems and connectivity under the unified portal of e-justice. My sincere desire is to be able in the nearest future to request and receive writs by e-mail; to send them to the bailiffs by e-mail – and they should also have access to the information system during the course of trial. This is the way to ensure prompt and convenient collection of due claims and receivables. At the same time, there will be significantly more guarantees to those who have found themselves in the position of a debtor – their rights will not be unjustly affected; everything is going to be transparent.

In the second part of the interview with Attorney Galin Popov, you are about to learn more about the three steps in comprehending the benefits of digitalization in the field of justice.