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Bulgarian Law & The Prosecutor

Noisy or drunken neighbours? Workmen disappeared with your money and not done the job? If you have experienced these kind of difficulties and have gone to the police but they have done nothing about it as they tell you "it is a civil matter", you can go to your local Prosecutor and make your complaint.

The Prosecutor is not a position with which most western Europeans are familiar but is a figure in Bulgarian law who is involved in pre court procedures when crimes are investigated.

If you believe a crime has been committed, you may go to your local Prosecutor to bring the complaint, the service is free of charge to all those resident in Bulgaria.

This article is designed to acquaint mainly non-professionals and non-Bulgarians with the procedural figure of the Prosecutor so, for the sake of clarity and understanding by readers, terminological precision and exhaustiveness of the subject matter have not been aimed for.

First of all, here are a few important definitions which will be referred to later in this article.

1. Crime of common character - every crime, which harms not only a certain individual, but also affects the public interests and the public order. Most crimes defined in the Criminal Code are of common character. The typical ones, such as thefts, frauds, homicides, property crimes, documentary crimes are always affecting the legal order and the interests of the general public.

2. Crime of private character - these crimes are minor and affect only the rights, interests or personality of the individual concerned. Such crimes are, for example, the public offence, calumny, and light body injuries. They do not affect the public order as a whole; therefore, they are only prosecuted in case the damaged individual initiates prosecution, which is pursued by the individual only.

3. Pre-court procedure - the preliminary phase of the penal procedure which precedes the court procedure and during which crimes of common character (only!) are investigated, evidence is collected and charges are pressed against the accused.

4. Court procedure - the court phase of the penal procedure, during which the charges are maintained and proven in court and the court convicts or acquits the defendant. Prosecution at this phase is represented by the Prosecutor in crimes of common character, and by the victim of the crime in the case of crimes of private character.

In Bulgaria the Prosecutor is an organ of the pre-court procedure, during which crimes of “common character” are investigated, and a party to the court procedure, where the Prosecutor supports the charges in crimes of “common character”.


Pre-court procedure

When a crime of common character is committed, the police authorities conduct an investigation. The pre-court procedure is officially started either by the police authorities directly, with the first investigative actions in cases of emergency, or with the appointment of the relevant Prosecutor, when sufficient data and evidence is found to support a grounded assumption that a crime had in fact been committed.

The role of the Prosecutor in the pre-court procedure is very important. The Prosecutor leads the investigation and constantly supervises the work of the investigating authorities in order to ensure that the procedure is followed in a lawful and timely manner. The Prosecutor may conduct separate actions in the investigation personally or issue written instructions and orders for the accomplishment of certain actions by the investigators. Such instructions are binding on the investigators.

In the course of the pre-court procedure, where sufficient evidence is collected that a certain individual has committed a crime of common character, the Prosecutor presses charges against the suspect. At this stage, the Prosecutor may impose restrictive measures such as enrolment in a certain restrictive regime, monetary guarantee, restriction to leave the country - or may request the court to impose the measures of home arrest or arrest.

After the investigation is completed, the Prosecutor assesses whether the charges are brought and supported by sufficient evidence to hold up in court or the investigation has led to a different conclusion - for example that the accused is not guilty, that his guilt is not sufficiently proven, that there is a crime, but it has not been committed by the suspect, etc.

Depending on the final results and conclusions of the pre-court procedure, the Prosecutor has several options - to prepare an Act of Charges and submit it to court, to return the file to the investigative authorities with instructions to conduct additional investigations or accomplishment of separate investigative actions, or to terminate the investigation against the accused individual or terminate the investigation entirely, in case he finds that the investigated deed does not represent crime at all.

All acts of the Prosecutor are subject to appeal before the respective higher Prosecutor's Office.


Court Procedure

In the court phase of the criminal procedure the Prosecutor supports the charges on crimes of common character. The Prosecutor represents the state/public interest and its task is to prove the charges and convince the court that the crime is indeed committed and is committed by the defendant. The Prosecutor participates in the court procedures as a party, with all rights and obligations of the parties to the proceedings (the defendant, his solicitor, the private prosecutor - the victim of the crime) - he questions the defendant and the witnesses, presents evidence, makes requests, objections, appeals the definitions of the court, pleads at the end of the court phase.

When there is a damaged person, who has suffered from the crime, this person is entitled to participate in the court procedure as a ‘private prosecutor’, thus being able to support the charges actively with the above-described means personally (ie, you can personally question the defendant, etc) or through a solicitor. In this case the ‘private prosecutor’ - victim of the crime - and the state Prosecutor have very similar roles in court - they stand on the same side in the court hall and can support each other in the course of the proceedings.

At this stage, since the charges are still subject to undoubted demonstration to their full extent, and certain new facts and evidence may be revealed, the Prosecutor may still withdraw the charges and state that it no longer supports it. Such act is not binding on the court, in fact it happens extremely rarely, even if the innocence of the defendant is obvious.

When the sentence is pronounced, if it discharges the defendant or if the court imposes a different punishment from the one pleaded by the Prosecutor, the latter may protest the sentence before a higher court.


Making a Complaint to the Prosecutor

The above general information will probably help those non-Bulgarians who are not acquainted with the role and the duties of the prosecutor in the Bulgarian legal system, but are sometimes referred to the Prosecutor's Office.

If you are the victim of a crime, you can call the nearest police station and ask for help and protection. Police officers, however, are not lawyers - they can easily recognise crimes like a theft, a homicide or a heavy injury and formally start an investigation, but often they will tell you that what you are complaining about is a civil matter and not a criminal one and they are not competent to start an investigation.

In this instance, if you are sure a crime has been committed, you can complain directly to the Prosecutor.

For example you have paid for repair works on your house, but the worker took your money, did nothing and disappeared. What transforms a simple breach of contract into an act of fraud, is the intent of the worker. Proving his intent is more legal than operative investigation work and in this case, filing your complaint before the Prosecutor instead of the police would be more efficient. The Prosecutor will give mandatory instructions to the police authorities on the actions necessary to reveal whether the worker is an unreliable contractor or a criminal.

You may also file a complaint with the Prosecutor and request that the Prosecutor takes no immediate action. For instance in the case of a persistently drunken, noisy neighbour; where you have complained to the police and they have visited the neighbour on several occasions, yet the neighbour has persisted in his behaviour. However, perhaps after the last police visit, the neighbour has quietened. You may visit the Prosecutor and in effect 'open a file' with your complaint in order that everything is in writing and evidenced, so that if the neighbour starts his bad behaviour again, you have all the documentation ready with the Prosecutor's Office for them to act.

If you take a complaint before the Prosecutor, write your complaint in your own language and get it translated into Bulgarian by a registered translator and get the document notarised.


Roumen V. Petrov
Asya Mandjukova
GPNG Law Firm