Civil Court Watch in Bulgaria

New for Bulgaria approach is borrowed by longtime successful experiences of American non-governmental organizations Lawyers for human rights from Minnesota and Watch. The initiative is launched before 25 years in Minnesota and now is being implemented in almost all the States in the United States.

In the beginning civil court watch focuses on the problem of violence against women, the case- law on this public issue and the absence of statistics how many and what proportion of this type of reach the courtroom and how "moving" in the judicial system. Later civil surveillance is directed to the application of other laws, judicial procedures and the functioning of the Court as a whole.

Open Society Institute- Sofia supports the implementation of civil court watch in matters related to violence against women by 2004, when not yet adopted specific legislation to regulate this subject. This initiative started as a pilot project Civil monitoring and statistics on matters relating to domestic violence as instruments of change, implemented during 2002- 2003 in Varna Regional Court and Varna District Court.

In 2004 the project was expanded geographically and covered courts in Bourgas, Sofia and Razgrad. For this implementation the Open Society Institute has funded four organizations: Association Demeter, Association Youth Alliance-Varna, NGOs Centre in Razgrad and Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation which carry out civil court watch in the cities of Bourgas, Varna, Sofia and Razgrad.

At the end of 2005 the four funded organizations reported increasing interest and good cooperation with all courts and continue the voluntary surveillance over these types of matters, despite terminated by the Institute Open Society - Bulgaria financing. Talks and interviews clearly show the change in the ratio of judges to "domestic violence".
In particular, as the result achieved is reported an increased role of the Court as a key figure in the process, increase its activity in clarifying the circumstances of the matter, the Court increasingly benefits from the law's right to indicate the parties ' rights or to oversee them in the process. In 2006, non-governmental organizations started to use this methodology to continue their observations over matters in the newly approved then Law on Protection from Domestic Violence.

Development of civil court watch cards
Civilian observers with the assistance of the Open Society Institute- Sofia have collaborated on two kinds of cards. One that monitors in matters relating to the Penal Code and Criminal-procedural code, and the other with the Family Code and the Civil- identify code.

Legitimation of civilian observers
Civil observers were selected by competition. With the permission of the Chairmen of the courts, which carry out the monitoring, they have increased access to legal documents and matters and attend in the courts. Their presence is noted by the presence of a red folder, which distinguishes them from the parties to the proceedings and other citizens.

Training of civilian observers
Civilian observers are familiar with methods, objectives and tasks of judicial monitoring, with the legal provisions governing the relations arising in situations of violence against women, with the various types of offences, matters and legal proceedings with the movement of cases in court, how to work with the documentation and how and when they can use it.

Meetings of observers with the Chairmen and judges
During the realization of the project have organized 10 meetings of civilian observers with the Chairmen and judges of the courts in Varna, Bourgas and Sofia, Razgrad. These meetings have helped improvement of the partnership between the courts on the one hand, and non-governmental organizations and observers from another. During these meetings have planned activities of the project, have prepared the schedules of upcoming review matters and is discussing the need for cooperation on the part of judges and judicial officers in carrying out civil surveillance for the dissemination of information materials, connected with the implementation of the project, etc.

Why we conduct civil court watch
Civil court watch is a model for implementation of civil control of the activity and work of the courts. This is necessary to guarantee transparency and accountability of the judicial system. Civil court watch aims to strengthen its responsibility to society and to improve the administration of legality by increasing civil presence in the halls and finds problems and offer practical solutions for them.

The introduction of the model in Bulgaria is responding to the trials of many courts to introduce a policy of transparency in their work and to be open to the public. One of the objectives in the implementation of the model is to obtain a better understanding of the work of the judiciary by the citizens, which in turn leads to increased public awareness and confidence.

The model helps to reflect more comprehensively and objectively the activities of the Court in matters of public interest in the conditions of dynamically changing legal framework, which is achieved by interaction between civil society in the face of non-governmental organizations and the judicial system in the face of the courts. Cooperation between non-governmental sector and the courts allow citizens to learn much more about the nature and quality of judicial intervention in resolving important issues such as the problem of violence in the family.