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Bulgaria Programs

Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity

The ABA's anti-corruption program provided commentary and analysis to a variety of non-governmental and governmental organizations involved in combating corruption and joined with local partners to sponsor a series of public hearings on key corruption-related topics such as procurement law reform, magistrate's immunity and the highly debated Ombudsman draft laws. The hearings facilitated a national policy dialogue on these issues. The ABA also provided an advocacy grant and faculty support to the nongovernmental organization Access to Information to conduct a series of training programs for hundreds of municipal officials and attorneys across Bulgaria on implementing the country's Access to Information Act.

Anti-Money Laundering

After Bulgaria adopted its 2001 Measures Against Money Laundering Act – a legislative framework that established reporting requirements and a financial intelligence unit to receive and analyze them – there was little understanding and a great deal of mistrust among the institutions that needed to collaborate to make the legislation effective. In response, the ABA brought together central bankers, officials from the Financial Intelligence Unit, prosecutors, financial police and commercial banks through a series of seminars in 2001. By the end of the series, bankers were talking constructively with the Financial Intelligence Unit, which in turn was more attuned to the investigative needs of prosecutors. The commercial banking association and the Financial Intelligence Unit signed a memorandum of understanding, and participants developed a consensus list of further legislative reform needed. The U.S. Treasury Department built upon this success with continued work in Bulgaria in 2002.

Ethics Standards

The ABA has sought to promote legal ethics and legal ethics enforcement through a public awareness campaign to eliminate corruption and uphold citizens' trust in the judiciary and law enforcement agencies. The ABA has also trained more than 500 police at a series of 15 ethics trainings across Bulgaria.

The ABA designed and presented a series of ethics lectures at the Economic University and the New Bulgarian University on the theory of ethics, Bulgaria views on ethics violations, practical applications of ethics theories and disciplinary systems were presented. The New Bulgarian University will include legal ethics in its clinical legal education program, and the Economics University will include ethics as an elective in its coursework.

Criminal Law Reform and Anti-Human Trafficking

The criminal law reform program in Bulgaria was initiated in August 1998 with the placement in country of the ABA's first full-time criminal law liaison. The program has focused on legislative reform and training to combat cybercrime, prosecutorial reform and assistance to combat money laundering. The ABA's criminal law reform program has also advised in the process of drafting and implementing modern criminal justice legislation, conducted comprehensive training programs for prosecutors, judges, investigators and defense attorneys, and worked to strengthen the operation of criminal justice institutions, such as prosecutors' offices, investigative bodies and professional associations.


The ABA sought to raise awareness of computer crime and assisted in drafting amendments to Bulgaria's Penal and Criminal Procedure Codes to enable law enforcement officials and magistrates to combat cyber crime effectively. The ABA also promoted the ratification of the Council of Europe Cyber Crime Convention. The ABA's activities to help Bulgaria combat this problem include:

  • Opening in January 2003 of a training center for combating cybercrime in partnership with the Bulgarian National Investigative Service and the private sector Bulgarian Association of Information Technologies.
  • A comprehensive training program for a broad range of participants, including judges, prosecutors, investigators, police, policymakers and executive branch officials.
  • Encouraging the formation of specialized computer crime units in the prosecution, investigation and police service and building the capacity of these groups to combat cybercrime through publications and trainings, including a manual on investigating and prosecuting cybercrime.

Regional Criminal Justice Initiative (RCJI)

The Regional Criminal Justice Initiative (RCJI) places an experienced prosecutor, assigned by the ABA, and an experienced investigator, assigned by the U.S. Department of Justice International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program, within a local justice system in Bulgaria to work closely with local counterparts. The program was established to increase the capacity of the Bulgarian criminal justice system to investigate and prosecute crimes, particularly cases involving corruption and organized crime.

A lack of cooperation between Bulgaria's judges, prosecutors, investigative magistrates and police has prevented effective investigation and prosecution. The RCJI seeks to strengthen the relationship among the relevant parties and increase the number of successful prosecutions. Through mentoring, training and sharing of expertise between Bulgarian justice sector officials and their American counterparts, the RCJI also seeks to streamline case management procedures, identify and empower local justice sector personnel capable of becoming leaders in justice sector reform, and generate ideas for structural and legislative reform on a national level.

The project began in Blagoevgrad and after six months moved to Plovdiv to replicate its success. In Blagoevgrad, the RCJI organized the first joint meetings of the regional heads of all criminal justice agencies and solicited their opinions on priority areas of reform. Highlights of the resulting actions include:

  • The RCJI formed a working group of international and national officials at the regional level to draft a legislative amendment on illegal border crossings. A first-time border crossing with no other criminal conduct is a criminal offense under the current laws, overwhelming the resources of local police, prosecutors and the courts in border regions.
  • The RCJI conducted a border issues seminar in Petrich for representatives from regional courts, regional and district prosecutors' offices, regional police, border police, Customs and the Ministry of Agriculture forest service.
  • The RCJI worked with the Judicial Strengthening Initiative to establish a secure e-mail system between criminal justice entities in the Blagoevgrad region. The RCJI program is receiving bids for the equipment necessary for this project in order to move forward. This promises to increase the efficiency of the criminal justice system exponentially.

Judicial Reform

Bulgaria is the only country so far that has been assessed three times by the ABA's Judicial Reform Index (JRI). The first assessment occurred in 2002, and the most recent one was published in June 2006. The JRIs attracted extensive media coverage and helped to foster a public dialogue on the issues highlighted.

From the inception of its program in Bulgaria, the ABA promoted the idea of a judge-taught, independent, and indigenous judicial training/educational program. A "core group" of Bulgarian judges shared the ABA's commitment to this concept, and, ultimately, the result was the creation of the Bulgarian Legal Initiative for Training and Development (PIOR), a nongovernmental entity aimed at providing continuing legal education to all members of Bulgaria's legal profession (including judges, attorneys, and prosecutors). PIOR was formed in 1994, with the ABA's assistance, and over the years conducted numerous training workshops (in conjunction with the ABA and independently), on topics ranging from tax law to alternative dispute resolution. The ABA also assisted in the establishment of the Bulgarian Judges' Association (BJA) in 1997 and provided it with institution-building assistance.

The ABA has worked extensively on judicial ethics, including conducting training programs and assisting the BJA with developing a code of ethics. The ABA has also implemented workshops, assisted PIOR in the placement and training of court spokespersons, and published a manual to improve relations between the judiciary and the media.

In 1998, the ABA provided support to the BJA and the MOJ to create a national judicial training center (the Magistrates Training Center, which later became the National Institute of Justice). The ABA has also helped develop legislation on judicial restructuring, working with the National Investigative Service, the Prosecutor General's Office, the MOJ, the Supreme Administrative Court, the National Assembly, the BJA, and various other NGOs.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

The ABA's alternative dispute resolution program worked for years to mainstream mediation and ADR in Bulgaria. This included working with the Bulgarian Industrial Association to create arbitration and mediation "courts," conducting workshops on ADR, training mediators and arbitrators, and convening working groups for mediation professionals, as well as ongoing public awareness campaigns. In 2004, the Bulgarian Parliament passed the Mediation Act that the ABA had assisted in drafting. The ABA also assisted in the development of implementing regulations for the Mediation Act, including ethical and professional standards for mediators and the Unified Register of Mediators, which were made available to the public in March 2006.

Additionally, the ABA provided extensive substantive and institution-building assistance to a variety of mediation organizations, including the National Institute for Conciliation and Arbitration and the Bulgarian Association for Alternative Dispute Resolution in Plovdiv. The ABA has assisted in the creation of mediation centers in Vratsa, Assenovgrad, Stara Zagora and Bourgas. The ABA has also facilitated the implementation of court-referred mediation programs in all those localities, as well as the pilot program in Plovdiv. Finally, the ABA provided mediation skills training to more than 100 attorneys, covering 18 out of 28 Local Bar Councils.

Legal Education Reform and Civic Education

The ABA's work on legal education reform aimed to increase clinical legal education opportunities at Bulgarian law faculties and, in turn, increase access to legal services among disadvantaged groups. To this end, the ABA worked closely with the Legal Clinic Foundation, which operates two legal clinics in the city of Rousse that focus on family and succession law and administrative law and procedure, as well as a branch in Sofia that works on civil law matters. Bourgas Law School recently adopted the clinical teaching model as well as the Law Faculty at the University in Veliko Turnovo, both of which also receive financial assistance from the ABA. Moreover, the ABA provided technical equipment and legal literature to the law clinic at Varna Free University. Through the ABA's clinical program more than 100 students were trained and more than 1,000 clients provided legal assistance.

The ABA, in collaboration with Open Society Institute, published a textbook on clinical education for use in all working clinics, which provides information to the clinics on how to organize and structure themselves, as well as serving as a textbook to students in various areas of practical legal skills. Moreover, the two worked to launch a nation-wide clinical education website, with detailed information on the activities of partnering Bulgarian legal clinics, to serve as both a public information tool and a tool to target technical assistance in legal education reform efforts.

The ABA, in collaboration with Open Society Institute, worked as well to ensure the programmatic and financial sustainability of clinical legal education in Bulgaria.  At a conference in June 2005, all of the legal clinics in Bulgaria signed the Academic Standards for the Organization and Activities of Legal Clinics with Bulgarian Law Faculties, an unprecedented attempt to create a uniform model for clinical education in Bulgaria. Following the June conference, on August 11, the Council of Ministers formally incorporated clinical legal training into the system of Bulgarian legal education by amending the Legal Education Ordinance. According to the amendment, "[l]egal clinics provide students with opportunity to acquire skills necessary for the practice of law through lectures, simulations and work with live clients… Work with real clients is carried out only after relevant theoretical preparation and under the supervision of practicing lawyers." Although the new provisions do not make legal clinics an obligatory discipline in the curricula of law schools, this development is an important formal recognition of clinical education that strengthens its prospects for sustainability. Furthermore, students' participation in legal clinics is now recognized as equivalent to the obligatory study internship in the courts, which all law students have to do in the course of their studies. The text of the provisions defining legal clinical education is identical to that which the ABA and Open Society Institute suggested to the Bulgarian Ministry of Justice in April of this year.

Finally, the ABA has been involved in establishing cooperation between all of its legal clinics and the municipalities, local bar councils and law faculties in the cities in which they work. By sharing resources, both financial and human, it is hoped that a sustainable model of clinical education can be created without need for outside donor assistance.

Legal Profession Reform

The ABA worked closely with the Bulgarian Bar Association (BBA) from 1991 until 2006. The ABA and the BBA collaborated on projects such as developing a code of professional ethics, conducting training and CLE workshops, encouraging BBA participation in substantive working groups, and providing support for annual member meetings, as well as developing a substantive newsletter for bar members.  Further, with extensive ABA technical assistance, the BBA drafted a new Attorneys Act that was passed by the Bulgarian Parliament in June 2004.

After the passage of the new Act, the ABA worked to help implement the major new provisions that were included. Specifically, the ABA worked with the Supreme Bar Council (SBC) to draft regulations governing the bar examination, create a comprehensive Code of Ethics, and establish national and regional structures for continuing legal education programs.

Following a study tour to the Paris Bar Council that focused on implementing the act, the SBC held the first bar examination in Bulgaria in December 2004. The ABA subsequently made recommendations on how to improve the exam, which the SBC formally adopted. The SBC conducted a second bar exam in June 2005 and as planned, the exam turned out to be much more comprehensive and challenging in comparison with the first one. All recommendations for improvement made by the ABA between the first and the second bar exam were taken into account and the exam has become fully sustainable both substantively and financially.  The SBC conducted two additional bar exams, in December 2005 and June 2006, without any outside funding or technical assistance.

The ABA and the SBC worked to develop a Code of Ethics. Ninety attorneys from across the country reviewed the draft code of ethics and presented various suggestions for incorporation by joint forces of the ABA and the SBC. Following these recommendations, the ABA and the SBC finalized the code, which the SBC approved in July 2005.

The SBC, with the ABA's support and guidance, developed a broad range of new training programs. The Ordinance on the Attorneys Training and Qualificationapproved in December 2005,provides for the structure, organization and funding of the new Attorneys Training Center (ATC), as well as a minimum number of mandatory CLE hours for all attorneys. The ATC is to be responsible for the organization of all forms of training both in the capital and around the country, together with local bar associations. The mandatory CLE requirement can be fulfilled through courses provided by the ATC or other institutions (such as international organizations, Bulgarian NGOs and private companies). The ATC also provides much needed practical guidance for newly admitted attorneys. The ATC offered its first training, regarding changes to the Criminal Procedure Code, under its own auspices in March 2006.

In addition, the ABA worked with twelve Model Local Bar Councils (MLBCs) on institution building issues. The capacity-strengthening work was designed to transform the MLBCs into effective organizations, able to provide a variety of services to legal professionals and communities throughout Bulgaria. The ABA hopes that this experience will resonate and influence the development of other local bar councils into active and effective legal professional organizations.

Finally, in February 2005, CEELI released its first Legal Profession Reform Index (LPRI), which reached all 11,000 members of the bar in Bulgaria. In April 2006, an assessor traveled to Bulgaria to conduct the second LPRI assessment, which was published in September 2006.

Prosecutorial Reform

The ABA has focused on professional ethics for prosecutors, as well as institutional support to prosecutors' organizations. The ABA provided institution-building support for the Association of Bulgarian Prosecutors and the National Association of Bulgarian Prosecutors. The ABA provided training sessions on ethics in the legal profession, as well as guidance on best practices for ethics codes.

In 2006, the ABA piloted a new assessment tool in Bulgaria, the Prosecutorial Reform Index (PRI). An assessment team traveled around the country in June 2006 to conduct interviews for the tool, which was published in Fall 2006. Recommendations based on the findings of the PRI have formed the basis for an action plan that the Prosecutor General is using to implement reforms.

Commercial Law

Between 1991 and 2003, the ABA's commercial law reform program focused on legislative drafting and substantive training. Furthermore, the ABA assisted with the creation and distribution of commercial law publications. Highlights of the ABA's work in this field include:

  • Assistance to the Competition Council to publish a pamphlet on competition law and the Council; training members of the legal and business community on competition law and procedure, and establishment of a website for Council discussions.
  • Legislative assistance to draft and revise laws on trademark, patent, industrial design, computer chip masking and copyright.
  • Training judges and prosecutors on copyright enforcement; assisting with policy reforms targeted at reducing copyright piracy.
  • Support to publish a Bulgarian language handbook containing international intellectual property agreements and commentary on the agreements.
  • Technical assistance in the drafting and implementation of amendments to the Commercial Code relating to Bankruptcy.
  • Publication of a bankruptcy practice and procedure manual for trustees and judges and training judges and trustees on bankruptcy law and practice.
  • Assistance with legislative and procedural reforms in the banking sector on privatization, insolvency, and deposit insurance.
  • Help to establish a central securities depository.
  • Support for legislative and procedural reforms in governmental concessions.