The Response of the Justice System to children in conflict with the law: United Nations standards and European experiences in juvenile justice, Sofia, Bulgaria.

2- 3 October 2009


The workshop, aimed at sharing best practices and experiences in juvenile justice among EU Member States, was jointly organized by the Regional Programme Office for South Eastern Europe of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), UNICEF and the Bulgarian Judges Association. The seminar was attended by UNODC and UNICEF experts as well as by judges from Bulgaria, Romania, France, Italy and from the Netherlands.

1.Background and purpose

Following a preliminary assessment of the Bulgarian juvenile justice system detecting substantial flows, UNODC, UNICEF and the Bulgarian Judges Association organized the workshop with the purpose of:


  • Enhancing the specialization of the juvenile justice system through the exchange of good practices and experiences among EU Member States.
  • Achieving a common understanding on further actions to be adopted to promote the full respect of the rights of children in conflict with the law and at risk in Bulgaria.


Bulgarian Institutions: Ms. Daniela Masheva, Deputy Minister of Justice, Mr. Ivan Nedev, Representative of the Supreme Court of Cassation, Mr. Christo Monov, Chairman of the State Agency for Child Protection, Mr. Stoil Sotirov, President of the Bulgarian Judges Association. 

Diplomatic Missions in Bulgaria: Mr. Paul Beijer, Ambassador of Sweden, Mr. Etienne de Poncins, Ambassador of France, Mr. Stefano Benazzo, Ambassador of Italy, Mr. Karel C. van Kesteren, Ambassador of the Netherlands, Mr. Klaus Fabjan, Ambassador of Austria, representatives from the Embassies of Belgium, Denmark, Finland and Spain.

International experts: Ms. Melita Cavallo, President of the Juvenile Court in Rome (Italy), Ms. Pierre- Marie Hourcade, Vice-President of the Juvenile Court in Paris (France), Ms. Nicoleta Stefanita, President of the Judges Association in Iasi (Romania), Mr. Hans Butselaar, General Director of the Juvenile Institutions in the Netherlands.

UNODC-UNICEF: Ms. Carla Ciavarella, UNODC Regional Programme Coordinator, Ms. Diana Vakarelska, UNICEF Bulgaria Officer in Charge, Ms. Severine Jacomy-Vite, Child Protection Specialist - UNICEF Regional Office for CEE/CIS, Mr. Francesco Piacentini, UNODC Junior Juvenile Justice Consultant.


UNODC, UNICEF and the Bulgarian Judges Association agreed on the recommendations, issued as guidelines and principles to be followed in order to reform the juvenile justice system in Bulgaria.

4.The workshop: development of the works

At the outset, the representatives of the Supreme Court of Cassation and of the Ministry of Justice stressed the need for actions aimed at promoting the respect of the rights of children in conflict with the law . The afore-mentioned Heads of Mission encouraged the process of reform of the judiciary system, ensured assistance in raising awareness on juvenile justice at institutional level, and requested a follow up on the outcomes of the workshop. 

UNODC-RPOSEE confirmed its will to contribute to the ongoing strategy for the reform of the Penal Code and of the Criminal Code of Procedure in Bulgaria. The United Nations standards and norms in juvenile justice and the Concluding Observations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child were afterwards presented as a starting point for further discussions. Moreover, main trends and challenges in the implementation of UN standards in South Eastern European Countries, based on the findings of the comprehensive study "Lost in the Justice System" (UNICEF, 2008), were introduced. 

The introduction to the Dutch, French, Italian and Romanian juvenile justice legal frameworks and the comparison of practises in their implementation led to the acknowledgment of the main shortcomings of the Bulgarian system, in particular:

  • The lack of specialization within the justice system;
  • The lack of differentiation in the treatment of juvenile victims and offenders;

In conclusion, the presentation of a national survey on judges, prosecutors and investigating police officers, conducted by the Bulgarian Judges Association, underlined the readiness of the system to deepen its specialization and initiate a path of reform.

5.Follow-up action

  • Dissemination of the recommendations among EU Diplomatic Missions, relevant Bulgarian Institutions, regional and district courts countrywide;
  • Scheduling a meeting with the Minister of Justice in order to assess:

       - The concrete willingness to take action in the area of juvenile justice;

       -The possibility for UNODC to support the activities aimed at reforming the judicial system lately envisaged; 

  • Organization of a coordination meeting among UNICEF-Bulgaria, UNODC-RPOSEE, the Bulgarian Judges Association and the Diplomatic Missions involved (Embassy of Italy, Embassy of France and the Embassy of the Netherlands), in order to share the results of the recommendations. 
  • Coordination of a meeting at regional level among UNICEF Regional Office for CEE/CIS, UNICEF Serbia and UNODC-RPOSEE, in order to ascertain the possibility to develop a regional initiative (to be included in the Regional Programme to Promote Rule of Law and Human Security in South Eastern Europe) regarding policies, strategies and implementation modalities for securing the rights of children in conflict with the law and at risk (by merging preventive and rehabilitation measures).

6.Additional activities to be reported :

UNODC-RPOSEE joined the presentation conference of the Bulgarian-Dutch "Correctional programme for work with juvenile offenders at the Reformatory in Boychinovtsi" on the 5 th of October in Sofia . UNODC contributed with the participation of Ms. Donatella Caponetti, Director of the Juvenile Justice Centre for Lazio (Italian Ministry of Justice). The programme is aimed at:

  • Strengthening the quality of specialized treatments for juvenile offenders in the reformatory in Boychinovtsi;
  • Establishing a sustainable relationship between the Dutch Reformatory Den Hey Acker and the Reformatory in Boychinovsti (Bulgaria);
  • Developing a plan for improving the "chain of care" in Bulgaria.


  • Mr. Hristo Angelov, Deputy Minister of Justice (Bulgaria).
  • Mr. Petar Vassilev, General Director of the General Directorate Execution of Penalties (Bulgaria).
  • Mr. Hans Butselaar, General Director of the Juvenile Institutions in the Netherlands.
  • Mr Paul Geurts, Director of International Co-operation of the Agency of Correctional Institutions in the Netherlands.
  • Mr. Andri van Mens, Justice and Home Affairs department, Embassy of the Netherlands in Sofia.
  • Ms. Donatella Caponetti, Director of the Regional Centre for Juvenile Justice for Lazio-Italian Ministry of Justice.
  • Mrs. Mimi Tsocheva, Governor of the Reformatory in Boychinovtsi (Bulgaria).

The conference works:

Following the introductory remarks, the Bulgarian, Dutch and Italian systems for the management of juvenile correctional institutions were introduced: the comparison among systems resulted in a mutual acknowledgment and recognition of respective flaws and qualities. The shortcomings and concerns resulting from the workshop on the juvenile justice system were confirmed. The following additional points have been outlined with regard to the system of correctional institutions in Bulgaria:  

  • The lack of specific programmes for dealing with juvenile detainees, since the existing ones are developed for addressing the needs of adults;
  • The lack of after-care services for the reintegration of juvenile detainees into their communities;
  • The necessity of enhancing cooperation and receiving assistance in the management of juvenile correctional  institutions;