Тhe unifying power of judicial ethics. “Code JEPC” or why it is important to discuss the core of the art of Justice.

The man has just started his judicial career in Bulgaria. He was a candidate for a junior prosecutor, called Georgi Kodzhanikolov. Day had dawned cold and grey when the man turned aside from the main square in Sofia. He was contemplating about the essence of truth and integrity and somehow his thoughts were overtaken by Plato’s ideas and the conceptual image of the heavenly plane tree as an everlasting symbol. The man thought that the outlines of the concept of Justice have been long ago determined but its ethical core is permanently challenged. In this freezing cold, the reminiscence of the formulated in 2001 principles of Bangalore warmed his soul up as he started visualizing what the southern Indian city of Bangalore looked like. It did not matter though how warm and sunny there might be. Out of a sudden the man understood that it was not for the sheer weather conditions that were determining, but for the idea of being inspired to set standards on ethics and professional behaviour which could be followed by judiciaries in the whole world, organizing an integrated and devoted unit. This was the reason for his warming from the inside, this started the fire and he decided that it is high time he initiated the decoding of the current content of the “Code J(udicial)E(thics) and P(roffesional)C(onduct)”. The following day Georgi decided that he should share with others his reveals and motivation. He wanted to make something on his behalf for the sake of society’s welfare and for the upholding of the Rule of Law. Just as a remedy for his inner provocations, during one of his lectures on the topic of judicial ethics, held in the National Institute of Justice /NIJ/, he was suggested to take part in a team for semi-final of THEMIS competition on Ethics and Professional Conduct /EPC/, organised by the European Judicial Training Network /EJTN/. With the cooperation of the staff in the NIJ, Georgi was introduced to other participants in the Bulgarian team – Judge Angelina Lazarova – a sitting judge in Appellate Court of Varna, junior judge Radoslav Angelov – a sitting junior judge in District Court of Lovech and junior judge Kalina Stancheva – a sitting junior judge in Sofia City Court. So the endeavor to discuss on the power of the “Code JEPC” which is the core of the art of Justice began.

In a blink of an eye, it was already fresh spring with its remarkable traits – easy to breathe air and gentle sunlight, for which we all yearn so much during the winter, were present. In early March the team of the four magistrates got together in bright Varna – the sea capital of Bulgaria to use the power of the sea to form a proper strategy for conquering the THEMIS competition. It was under the enchanting early sun rays from the sky in Varna, when the group chose to establish an online digital arena where colleagues round the globe would be able to raise their voices on ethical discussions. Most of all this digital space would make it possible and easy for law practitioners to become part of something mutual – of an inseparable unit. “When the trail is not marked well, you should make your own path”- this guiding quote was recognized while Great four faced some of the current ethical challenges, i.a. how to be present in social media and to protect yourself; what are the borders of the judicial empathy; is it possible to have ethical rules on whistleblowing into judiciary or on the impact of legal technology etc. They agreed that could be set as harmonized “Code JEPC” in the European Union and tried to provoke the status quo, striving to prove that common rules for practitioners in the judiciary that are applicable on a world-wide scale is not a utopia.

This is the way the https://judicialethicsplatform.nij.bg/ was born. The latter is divided in certain sections regarding the following matters: home page; news – about the NIJ, about the country of Bulgaria, about the team, about the paper work of the team created for the purpose of the THEMIS competition, and the presentation of the topics; digital arena, consisted of debate arena, drafting arena for rules, survey and a quiz; e-tools with subdivision of main sources of EPC, Atlas of EPC codes of 27 EU countries and other countries and institutions, results from the research of the Codes and bibliography. The webpage has also acknowledgement section, a gallery with dear photos and a section with contacts of the Bulgarian four practitioners in the judicial system.

The semi-final of THEMIS, on EPC was in sunny Barcelona in the period of 12th -15th of July, 2022. The Bulgarian team of three judges and a prosecutor presented their approach to “Code JEPC”. It turned out that the idea of mutual ethical principles within judicial systems worldwide is not only very well-accepted, but also long expected from professionals. The fact that law practitioners, especially those working in the judicial systems, are in huge need of some lighthouse whilst swimming in the sea of mundane ethical hurdles was visible in the reaction the Bulgarian team received during the day of their presentation in the competition. The audience, consisted of clever and energetic young representatives of the judiciaries from different MSs, burst into loud applause at the end of the speech of the Bulgarians. However, it was not only the audience’s sincere reaction that gave wings and affirmation to the four to think about continuing digging more in the sensitive area of ethics, professional conduct and common moral values. The dignified jury granted the Bulgarian team with a special jury award for innovations for creating the https://judicialethicsplatform.nij.bg/. After the event, the United Nations Office Drugs and Crimes /UNODC/ has expressed through their representative in the event of the competition a desire to cooperate and work together with the team to develop further the website.

Great approval and warm regards were expressed on a national, Bulgarian level as well. The NIJ was determined to give a hand to his alumni by working further on the platform, providing them the help of more professionals from various working fields and backgrounds to work on the webpage and the ideas represented there. Since it was somehow wholeheartedly believed that with mutual effort, the platform would overtake not only national, but rather international borders facilitated by its English script. Because of the significance of the work, the NIJ proposed to the Supreme Judicial Council /SJC/ in Bulgaria to praise the Bulgarian team for the devotion, enthusiasm and passion given for creating the platform and desire to alter it with the passage of time to a more advanced, larger and stronger form. Consequently, judges Angelina Lazarova, Kalina Stancheva and Radoslav Angelov and prosecutor Georgi Kodzhanikolov were praised with the one of a kind award for special merits from the SJC.

The Partnership Council to the Supreme Judicial Council /PCSJC/ also articulated that they would like to work alongside with the team to deepen their knowledge, perception and experience regarding the ethical questions raised. The members of the PCSJC were astonished by the enchanting idea for globalizing the ethical rules applicable to judges and prosecutors with a simultaneous renovation of the basic principles from Bangalore. Only time will tell in which directions and places this partnership will result, but the fact that this body took notice of the existence of the first and unique as a content, approach and possibilities, platform for magistrates not only in Bulgaria, in the EU, but also in the whole world, is worth mentioning.

Great examples of the unifying power of the dialog on “Code JEPC” and of the vivid cooperation with partners were acquired after presenting the platform in front of the two different groups of the EJTN’s exchange program AIAKOS participants. The gatherings with them took place in the facility of the NIJ, located in the heart of the Bulgarian capital, where guests from Italy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Hungary and Austria managed to grasp the concept of the platform, since they had the chance to go thoroughly through it with the help of the team themselves. The discussion with the young European magistrates triggered some inquisitive questions, placed in the AIAKOS quiz section on the platform. The 100 percent majority of answer “Yes” given was regarding the necessity of actualization of the Bangalor principles. The Christmas wishes in participants native languages are also posted on the platform.

The number of total visits on https://judicialethicsplatform.nij.bg/ so far comes up to 15 613, which bearing in mind the fact that the webpage has only been created in the beginning of July and is not fairly popularized so far, is a fact speaking for itself. The cooperation with the colleagues from around the world is proven with clear statistics of the administrator of the platform. The top 10 countries with most visits since 13.07.2022 are as follows: United States of America – 1,237, United Kingdom – 417, France – 394, Bulgaria – 350, Germany – 201, Russian Federation – 149, Japan – 96, Canada – 55, the Netherlands – 48, Australia – 43. There are people also interested in checking the website from Singapore, Taiwan, Kazakhstan, India, South Africa, Brazil, Philippines, Nigeria, Seychelles, Hong Kong, United Arab Emirates, Thailand, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea, Honduras, Colombia, Iran, Tunisia, Kenya, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Armenia, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Panama, Venezuela, Bolivia, Trinidad and Tobago. This statistics is extremely alluring for the team as it does show that recommendation by word of mouth can lead to covering the area of the whole globe. The comments from the visitors are only positive and encouraging; they provide us additional information and provoke new ideas. What a better cooperation in decoding of the specific “Code JEPC” can we ask for?!

We are extremely enthusiastic to see the future improvements of the so treasured platform. Nonetheless, satisfaction is due at the time being as well because we have our private long waited place for discussions on ethical dilemmas. Today’s world has its new realities and it is entirely justifiable to see these incoming state of the things visible in alteration of the highly demanding concept for ethical standards for magistrates that societies need to hear and to see applied.

It is again winter in Sofia. The ground is blanketed in snow. But this time Georgi is not alone with his ideas, he is not only with Angelina, Radoslav and Kalina, but also with some acquainted colleagues from other parts of the world too. They were sightseeing together the splendid Christmas markets in the capital, drinking hot chocolate and discussing how important is “Code JEPC” as the core of the art of Justice. Written rules may vary in different countries in accordance to the specific culture, traditions and perspectives in life shared in the particular area of land, but the common contemporary values and the standards trigger us to use each opportunity to express and share our views. The forbidding winter state outside was overcome by the captivating fire lit within the hearth of the https://judicialethicsplatform.nij.bg/. Welcome, dear colleagues we are happy to have you on board and we are looking forward with enthusiasm to share our fabulous journey with you!

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