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Bulgarian president rejects cost hike on green court cases

The President of Bulgaria has objected to a new law aimed at pricing people out of bringing environmental appeals.

Passed in July, the new law imposes potentially prohibitive costs on anyone trying to appeal a decision allowing a large industrial project to go ahead. The President published an official veto, outlining key rule of law issues posed by the “drastically increased fees”.

ClientEarth lawyer Dominique Doyle said: “The concerns expressed by the President mirror ours – the reasoning he gives is an excellent defence of democracy and the rule of law. The President recognises that these proposed laws are an obstacle to democratic processes and that they run counter to European human rights law and the Aarhus Convention on access to justice.”

The presidential veto can still be overturned by Parliament, which would mean the law passes officially with no further possibility of objection. The only way to challenge it on a national level after that would be in the Constitutional Court.

Doyle said: “The presidential objection highlights just how serious a threat this hike in court costs poses to access to justice. Access to the courts for people, civil institutions and NGOs is a central part of democracy. We are encouraged that the President has exercised his right to veto, and we will continue to do all we can to ensure the rule of law is respected in Bulgaria.”

When the law was passed, Za Zemiata and ClientEarth along with many other Bulgarian NGOs raised concerns, pointing to objections they had already raised when access to justice issues surfaced in Bulgaria last year. Bulgaria has already been cautioned over its access to justice issues.

Regina Koleva, legal adviser to ClientEarth, said: “This proposed law inflating appeal costs is part of an intense campaign by Bulgarian lawmakers to undermine democracy and restrict access to justice. We will continue to find avenues at national and EU level to uphold the rule of law in Bulgaria.”

Notes on the objection

The statement said that the proposed law would impede courts’ ability to “ensure balance and control between government authorities and the rule of law”, which “jeopardises the legal and democratic nature of the modern state”.

The statement makes explicit reference to the Aarhus Convention:

“Particularly worrying is the amendment to the Environmental Protection Act where the amount of the cassation appeal fee for the environmental impact assessment decision is left entirely to the discretion of the court. The introduction of a proportional fee will also make these proceedings inaccessibly expensive, which does not correspond to Art. 9 of the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters.”

Dominique Doyle is a lawyer with ClientEarth. She is Australian-qualified.

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