UPDATE: The Bulgarian Legal System and Legal Research

By Venelin Dimitrov, Blagomir Minov, Lidia Shumkova, and Veselka Petrova

Update by Aleksandar Aleksandrov

Aleksandar Aleksandrov is a Senior Legal Counsel at the law firm Tsvetkova, Bebov, Komarevski. He holds an LLM from the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ochridski”, Sofia, Bulgaria. Aleksandar Aleksandrov mostly focuses on energy, public procurements, spatial planning, construction and environment.

Published September 2018

(Previously updated in April 2008 and in May/June 2014)

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1. Introduction

The process of formation of the contemporary legal system of Bulgaria starts with the liberation of the country from Ottoman political domination in 1878. It is marked by the adoption of the first Bulgarian constitution – the Turnovo Constitution signed on 16 April 1879, a founding document upholding the most progressive and democratic principles dominating in Europe in the nineteenth century.

The modern Bulgarian legal system is influenced by two very important factors: the democratization and liberalization of the country’s economy, which started after the fall of the Communist regime in 1989, on the one hand, and the integration of Bulgaria into the EU, on the other. In the years preceding Bulgaria’s accession to the European Union, its legal system evolved through a profound and strictly-monitored alteration in order to achieve coherence with the acquis communautaire. The country is a member state of the EU as from January 1, 2007. After the accession of the country, the common EU legislation became an integral part of Bulgaria’s legal system.

For more information, please see the European Union’s website.

2. Sources of Law

A typical representative of the Romano – Germanic legal family, the Bulgarian legal system recognizes the Acts of Parliament as a main source of law. The Bulgarian jurisprudence does not regard the judicial precedent as a source of law. Nevertheless, apart from the direct sources, the legal doctrine also refers to the so-called indirect sources (or “subsidiary” sources) of law such as: case law (the practice of the courts), the legal doctrine, the legal customs, moral rules, and equity (“justice”). In addition, two types of decisions of the Constitutional Court (refer to 2.3. below) are clearly a source of law (but they cannot be regarded as case law). In terms of direct sources of law, which include also acquis communautaire, Bulgarian legal system is based on a strictly defined hierarchy of the sources of law as follows below:

2.1. EU Law

EU Law is a separate and independent legal order which constantly interacts with the national legislations of the member states. Some authors even consider it as unique system of legal norms, since it possesses some specific features which characterize EU Law as supranational legal order. The main characteristics of EU Law are the following: a) its supremacy over the internal legal provisions of the legislation of the member states (including their Constitutional provisions) which contradict it; b) its direct effect, e. g. EU regulations directly embeds legal rights and liabilities for its addressees and therefore the national parliaments of the EU countries do not have to go through legal procedure for ratification of EU regulations. In view of the above, it should be stated herein that EU Law has paramount importance in terms of depicting the hierarchy of the sources of Bulgarian law (see also two very important decisions of ECJ: Van Gend en Loos decision from February 5th 1963 and the Costa vs. Enel form July 15th 1964).

2.2. The Constitution

The Bulgarian Constitution, effective as from July 12, 1991, is supreme internal legislative act. The Constitution provides for the basic rights of the citizens as well as it stipulates the form of the state government and structure, functions and collaboration between the branches of government, etc.[1]

Amendments to the Constitution may be adopted through a majority of three quarters of the National Assembly (the single-chamber Parliament); some of the major constitutional provisions may only be amended by a Grand National Assembly (refer to 4.1. below). The Constitution has been amended five times so far, never by a Grand National Assembly.

2.3. Decisions of the Constitutional Court

According to art. 149, para. 1, p. 1 of the Constitution: “The Constitutional Court gives compulsory interpretations of the Constitution”. Among other powers, the Constitutional Court is also entitled to declare provisions contained in an Act of Parliament anti-constitutional. Those two types of decisions of the Constitutional Court are a very important source of law in Bulgarian legal system. (For details about the Constitutional Court please refer to Section 3.4. or see the Court’s website).

2.4. International Treaties

According to art. 5, para. 4 of the Constitution: “International treaties, ratified in compliance with the constitutional procedure, published and entered into force for the Republic of Bulgaria are part of the domestic law of the country and have supremacy over those provisions of the domestic law which contradict them”. This rule has been applied consistently by Bulgarian courts. With respect to the above, it should be noted, however, that EU has the legal capacity to be a party to international treaties with third countries and international organizations. These international treaties are an important part of the EU legal order and therefore their provisions are binding for the member states.

2.5. Acts of Parliament and Codifications

The main sources of law, apart from the EU laws are the Acts of Parliament.[2] Legislative initiatives are vested in any Member of Parliament, as well as in the Council of Ministers (refer to 3.2.1. below). Annual budgets bills can be drafted only by the Council of Ministers.

Some major branches of the legal system are codified, even though codes (enacted by the Parliament) have no higher standing than but are equal with the Acts of Parliament. The major codes having the ranking of an Act of Parliament currently in force in Bulgaria are:

2.6. Delegated Legislation

Constitution provides for and a number of Acts of Parliament delegate to the Council of Ministers, the Ministers separately, to other public bodies and/or officers the issuance of decrees, regulations, ordinances and instructions and thus the detailed regulation of specific areas of economic or social activity.

If such subordinate statutory instruments contravene an Act of Parliament or the Constitution they can be appealed before (and possibly revoked by) the Supreme Administrative Court (refer below).

2.7. The Practice of the Courts

The judgments issued by Bulgarian courts in individual proceedings have no universal applicability, i.e. they are binding on the parties involved. Thus, court judgments are not case law. Needless to say, even individual court judgments may have very significant practical value and are thus often of interest to practitioners and are cited in other legal proceedings. They remain, however, even in identical factual settings only arguments in another, independent trial.

At the same time, three types of court decisions are of such significant importance as to impact the enforcement of laws and other acts. Firstly, those judgments of the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) by which it abrogates statutory instruments which contradict an Act of Parliament or the Constitution (refer to 2.3. above). Secondly, each of the Civil, Commercial or Criminal Colleges (each consisting of the justices belonging to the respective College) of the Supreme Court of Cassation (SCC) can issue Interpretative Decision, which are binding on other courts and on the executive branch of the government. Such are issued where the respective college finds that an interpretation of an Act of Parliament or of a statutory instrument is needed (because of the lower courts issuing flawed judgments by misinterpreting such Acts or instruments, or because of dissenting judgments of different courts on similar cases). Thirdly and similarly, the justices in the Supreme Administrative Court can issue Interpretative Decrees, which are binding on the Judiciary and the Executive Branch of the Government (including the local authorities) as well as on all public bodies which are entrusted with the right to make delegated legislation (e.g. the Central Bank)[3]. The latter two classes of decrees are dealt with in the Judicature Act 2007 and the Administrative Procedure Code (APC) and are traditional for the Bulgarian legal system.

According to Interpretative Decision No 1 of 19.02.2010 of SCC, a court decision, which is consistent with a rendered interpretative decision or a decision under Art. 291 of the Civil Procedure Code for unifying the court practice, is not appealable before SCC. Thus, SCC’s decisions under Art. 291 of the Civil Procedure Code are of significant importance for unifying the court practice on disputable questions of law.

2.8. The Legal Custom

This is a subsidiary source of law the main characteristics of which are: a continuous implementation by many persons and its “opinion necessitatis” i.e. the common understanding of its binding force. It is not uncommon in business relations.

2.9. Moral Principles and Equity

The legal doctrine regards morality and equity as subsidiary sources of law, which are applicable in case of normative gaps.

3. Institutions

3.1. The Legislative Branch

According to art. 1, para. 1 of the Constitution, Bulgaria is a parliamentary republic, with the legislative branch taking supremacy. The National Assembly exercises the legislative power as well as the right to parliamentary control. A very important prerogative of the Parliament is to elect the Prime-Minister and its cabinet. The mandate of the National Assembly is four years and it consists of 240 directly elected members.

A Grand National Assembly consists of 400 directly elected members. The Grand National Assembly is exclusively entitled to exercise the following powers: to adopt a new Constitution; to resolve on the matter concerning a change of the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria, and to ratify any international treaties providing for any such changes; to resolve on the matters concerning changes in the form of state governance (parliamentary republic), the structure of State (unitary state and not a federal state); and to amend and supplement certain other major constitutional provisions.

For more information please see the Parliament’s website.

3.2. The Executive Branch

3.2.1. The Council of Ministers

The Council of Ministers or the Government is the main body of the executive power, headed by the Prime-Minister. The Government conducts the internal and foreign policy of the State, secures public order and cares for the national security, exercises control over the public administration and the military forces and has legislative initiative. The Prime-Mister is typically nominated by the largest parliamentary group, after which the President hands him a mandate for formation of cabinet.

The Government consists of Ministers who would normally be in charge of a Ministry. The number and names of Ministries change over time, sometimes even within the mandate of a single National Assembly. Ministries take charge of the respective sectors of economic or social life.

3.2.2. The President

The President is the Head of State and is directly elected by popular vote for a term of five years. He can hold no more than two consecutive terms of office. The President is entrusted primarily with representative functions, but also with some important executive prerogatives such as: to veto Acts of Parliament, to conclude some of the international treaties specified by law; to afford asylum; to exercise the right of pardon etc. (see also art. 98 of the Constitution). A Vice-President, elected with the President normally assists with specific matters, e.g. the granting of Bulgarian citizenship.

3.3. The Judicial Branch

The Bulgarian Judiciary is independent of the other branches of government (art. 117, para. 2 of the Constitution).The Judiciary is composed of three separate systems of law-enforcing or law-protecting authorities: the system of the courts; the system of the public prosecution and the system of the investigation offices (preliminary investigation).

The Supreme Judicial Council is the administrative body running the Judiciary. It is composed of 25 members, lawyers of high repute, of whom 11 are elected within the Judiciary, 11 by the National Assembly, and three are members by law: these are the presidents of SCC, of SAC and the Chief Prosecutor. According to art. 129, para. 1 of the Constitution: “Judges, public prosecutors and investigating magistrates are appointed, promoted, reduced in rank, moved and discharged from office by the Supreme Judicial Council.”

For more information, please refer to the following web sites:

3.3.1. The Courts

As a matter of principle the legal procedure in Bulgaria is a three-instance one, although there are many exceptions to this rule. The system of the courts is decentralized, i.e. courts of various ranks are distributed throughout the country. Only SCC and SAC are based in the capital city, Sofia.

3.3.2. The Public Prosecution

The structure of the Public Prosecution follows that of the courts. Public prosecutors act for the State in criminal cases and defend the public interest in many administrative and civil cases.

3.3.3. The Investigation Offices

Preliminary investigation magistrates carry out preliminary investigation proceedings in the criminal cases. In that they cooperate with the Police (which are organized under the Ministry of the Interior) and other specialized agencies.

3.4. The Constitutional Court

Among others, the Constitutional Court provides binding interpretations of the Constitution, rules on constitutionality of the laws and other acts passed by the National Assembly and the acts of the President and determines if laws and international agreements (before their ratification) are in compliance with the Constitution. The Constitutional Court consists of 12 judges. One-third of the constitutional judges are elected by the National Assembly, one-third are appointed by the President, and one-third are elected at a general meeting of the justices of the SCC and of the SAC. The judges of the Constitutional Court shall be elected or appointed for a period of nine years and shall not be eligible for re-election or re-appointment. The judges of the Constitutional Court shall be lawyers of high professional and moral integrity and with at least fifteen years of professional experience. The Constitutional Court may be approached at the initiative of at least one-fifth of the members of the National Assembly, of the President, of the Council of Ministers, of the Supreme Court of Cassation, of the Supreme Administrative Court, of the Prosecutor General. The Ombudsman may approach the Constitutional Court with a request for declaring as unconstitutional a law which infringes human rights and freedoms.

4. Some Other Institutions

4.1. The Ombudsman

The Ombudsman Act 2003 created the institution of the Ombudsman which is new for the Bulgarian legal system. This Act contains the rules on his powers and duties. Interestingly, the third amendment of the Constitution (promulgated in the State Gazette[4] No 27/31.03.2006) introduced this new office in the main law of the land only “after the fact”, i.e. in 2006. The Ombudsman may intervene by the means, envisaged by law, when citizens' rights and freedoms have been violated by actions or omissions of the State and municipal authorities as well as by public officers.

4.2. The Bulgarian National Bank (BNB)

Bulgaria’s Central Bank, BNB, is one of the oldest such institutions in Europe, it was established in 1879. BNB has important regulatory, monetary and supervisory powers (above all, over banks as credit institutions). BNB is managed by a Board of Governors, with a Governor ant three Deputy Governors, elected by the National Assembly, and three other Governors, appointed by the President. After election/appointment the governors become independent from the National Assembly/The President and may be released from office only on objective grounds.

4.3. The Financial Supervision Commission

The Commission is a specialized government body for regulation and supervision of the financial services sector other than the banking sector (securities firms, issuers, insurance companies, pensions, insurance companies and others). The Commission consists of five members, all elected by the National Assembly, including a Chairman and three Deputy Chairmen. The Commission is independent from the executive branch of government and accountable for its activities to the National Assembly.

4.4. The Commission for Protection of Competition (CPC)

CPC is the specialized State authority overseeing business entities with a view to ensuring fair competition practices and to pursuing anti-competitive practices. It consists of seven members, including a Chairman, a Deputy Chairman and five other members, all elected by Parliament. Similarly to BNB’s governors, the members of the Commission become independent from the National Assembly after their election. CPC authorizes state aid granting. As of 1 July 2006 the commission will hear appeals against decisions, acts and omissions in reference with public procurements and concessions.

4.5. The Bar

The Bulgarian legal system regards the Bar as an important institution which is entitled to protect the rights and the interests of the persons of law. Therefore, the Constitution and the Bar Act 2004 proclaim that the Bar is a free, independent and self-regulating body.

4.6. The Bulgarian Notary Chamber

The Notary Chamber in Bulgaria is a non-government organization which aims to organize and to improve the activities of the notaries public in Bulgaria.

4.7. The Court of Arbitration with the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry

The Court of Arbitration with the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry-BCCI is a 117-year old well-regarded institution for out-of-court dispute resolution providing arbitration and, lately, other alternative dispute resolution services.

5. Bulgarian Law Schools

There are nine law schools in Bulgaria. The course of studies continues for five years and the successful graduates obtain an LL.M. degree.

For more information, see the sites listed below.

6. Bulgarian Legal Publishers and Legal Magazines

The major Bulgarian legal periodicals include:

Online information is limited but annotations can be obtained from:

7. Legal Treatises

The legal treatises of prominent Bulgarian legal theorists and/or practitioners are published in the specialized legal journals, magazines and digests mentioned above (see Section 6). Some major legal research papers on current issues concerning the Bulgarian jurisprudence are published as legal manuals for students and practicing jurists. The latter are also available online at lex.bg.

Online resources about Bulgarian legal treatises are insufficient but still some data may be obtained at www.lex.bg. Some more important treatises of Bulgarian legal scholars are as follows:

Commercial Law:

Civil Law:

Criminal Law:

Practicing lawyers typically use one out of several specialized legal software programs containing restated laws, regulations, case law, references to legal treatises, etc.

Herein we have outlined only a few of the great number of publications concerning the legal matter and many of those we have not mentioned may be of equal importance for the researchers.

[1] The Constitution was built on the basis of the principles of contemporary constitutionalism such as: national sovereignty; representative democracy, separation of powers; political pluralism; supremacy of the law; free economy; equality among the people, priority of the individual, non-discrimination etc.

[2] The Statutes and Statutory Instruments Act (SIA) and Decree #883 on its implementation, a somewhat unique Bulgarian laws, regulate the structure, preparation, promulgation and implementation of Acts of Parliament and of statutory instruments, as well as the interpretation, abrogation, correction of factual mistakes, and the application of legal provisions by way of analogia legis and analogia juris.

[3] In addition, the various Colleges of SAC can issue Interpretative Decisions, which unlike of those of the Colleges of SCC are solely guidelines to the other courts and the administration.

[4] The State Gazette (Държавен вестник) is the official publication of the National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria. According to the State Gazette Act its content is divided into official section and non-official section. All acts of Parliament, statutory instruments, international treaties, decisions of the Constitutional Court, and those of SAC which proclaim subordinate legislation incompatible with an Act of Parliament, are published in the official section. The non-official section contains some of the individual administrative acts of ministers and heads of central and local government bodies (where publication is required by law); some notifications and announcements of ministries, other departments, academies, higher schools and research institutes, municipalities; court subpoenas (in specific case); some court decisions, among other officially required notifications. For more information refer to the Parliament’s website.