Disciplinary proceedings against Bulgarian judge Miroslava Todorova breached freedom of expression, ECtHR rules
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has issued its judgment in Miroslava Todorova v. Bulgaria (application no. 40072/13), concerning the disciplinary proceedings conducted in Bulgaria against the applicant (Miroslava Stefanova Todorova), who had been a judge and the President of the Bulgarian Union of Judges at the relevant time. The disciplinary proceedings led the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) to order a reduction of her salary and subsequently her dismissal on the grounds of delays in handling the cases allocated to her.
The ECtHR found no violation of the right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) insofar as the disciplinary proceedings before the SJC were carried out observing the required procedural guarantees and there was no evidence of lack of independence or of impartiality on the part of the SJC.
However, the Strasbourg-based court unanimously concluded that there had been a violation of the applicant’s freedom of expression (Article 10 ECHR) as well as of the rules limiting the restrictions of rights (Article 18 ECHR). The ECtHR noted that in her capacity as elected President of the Bulgarian Union of Judges, the applicant had made public statements on several occasions criticising the action of the SJC, particularly in connection with certain appointments of court presidents, as well as the Government’s judicial policy. Although these circumstances had been formally separated from the breaches of the applicant’s professional duties, the ECtHR concluded that the disciplinary proceedings against her had been bound up with her public statements. From this perspective, the ECtHR noted that such proceedings and the subsequent sanctions could have had a chilling effect on the applicant’s exercise of her freedom of expression and on that of all members of the national judiciary. Bearing in mind the fundamental importance of freedom of expression on matters of public concern such as the functioning of the judiciary and the need to protect judicial independence, the ECtHR ruled that the disciplinary proceedings against the applicant and the sanctions imposed on her had amounted to an interference with the exercise of her right to freedom of expression which had not been ‘necessary in a democratic society’ in pursuing the legitimate aims set out in Article 10 ECHR.
The judgment is available here.