This post was written by Nadia Rusinova (Hague University of Applied Sciences).
On 12 September 2023 a draft law to amend and supplement other statutes regarding the proceedings in civil cases under the application of the law of the European Union was submitted for consideration to the Bulgarian Parliament.
The adoption of legislative changes in the Civil Procedure Code, Child Protection Act and Private International Law Code is explained in the proposal as necessitated by the need to ensure the smooth and proper functioning of the common European area of justice while respecting the different legal systems and traditions of the Member States. The draft law is currently under discussion.
Civil Procedure Code
The draft law refers to the special rules regarding civil proceedings under the application of EU law. It provides conditions for implementing the provisions of three instruments: the Taking of Evidence Regulation, the Service Regulation and the Brussels II ter Regulation.
The amendments regarding the Taking of Evidence Regulation concern: the participation of representatives of the requesting court in evidence collection by the requested court, and the rights of the parties, their representatives, and experts to participate in evidence collection in another Member State as permitted by Bulgarian law (Article 615 of the Civil Procedure Code); possibility for direct collection of evidence in another Member State by the court, a delegated member of the court, or an expert appointed by the court (Article 614); implementation of Article 3(1) of the Regulation specifying that requests for evidence collection in Bulgaria are directed to the district court within whose jurisdiction the collection will occur (Article 617); and designation of the district court in Bulgaria, within whose jurisdiction the direct evidence collection will take place, as competent to authorize and provide practical assistance for evidence collection under Article 19 of the Regulation (Article 617).
The amendments relating to the Service Regulation are as follows: the indication of bailiffs as ‘transmitting authorities’ under Article 3(1) of the Regulation, in addition to district courts (Article 611 of the Code); a new rule for service in the event of an unsuccessful attempt to serve the specified address – the receiving authority makes an official check on the recipient’s address and, if necessary, forwards the request to the district court in whose district the service must be carried out (Article 611, para. 3); the indication of competent authorities under Article 7(1)(a) of the Regulation – the district court for whose district the address data is provided is competent. When no address information is provided, the Sofia District Court is competent (Article 612).
The amendments in respect of the Brussels II ter Regulation include the introduction of domestic procedures for issuing, correcting, and revoking certificates required by the Regulation (Articles 620a and 620b). A new Article 622c is envisaged, governing the direct enforcement of decisions from another member state in Bulgaria. It adheres to regulation principles, including the right to defense for the party against whom enforcement is sought, the ability to request refusal, and the right of the plaintiff to swift enforcement with the use of coercive measures, without harming the child. Provisions are made for suspention of the enforcement if it endangers the child, as well as measures in cases of long-term risk.
Child Protection Act
Changes stemming from the Brussels II ter Regulation affect as well the Child Protection Act regarding legal proceedings before Bulgarian courts concerning child return. They include hearing the child’s opinion based on age and maturity, evidence collection, decision deadlines, and issuing certificates for decision implementation. New rules cover measures for the child’s contact with the left behind parent, child protection during and after legal proceedings, ensuring the child’s safety upon return. The participation of a prosecutor in proceedings for child return under the 1980 Hague Convention is eliminated, aligning Bulgarian procedures with those of European countries. Prosecutors’ involvement is only maintained when the prosecutor initiates the return request, whereas in cases initiated by a parent through the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry represents the applicant, and the case is considered civil.
Private International Law Code
The proposed amendments to the Private International Law Code include a rule whereby international jurisdiction should be verified ex officio by the seised court, with the court ruling at an earlier stage on its own jurisdiction, including when the choice of court is made in the course of the proceedings. This would enable the court to take a stance on jurisdiction at the time of drawing up the preliminary report and notify the parties thereof.
Such early indication on the grounds of international jurisdiction and the applicable law, as well as the reflection of the choice of court and applicable law in the minutes of the hearing, create clarity and legal certainty and provide the parties with an opportunity to conduct the process in view of the applicable legal framework. The choice of court affects the issue of parallel proceedings in other Member States so it must be documented at the time of its execution.