C-614/14 Atanas Ognyanov v Sofiyska [2016]

C-614/14 Atanas Ognyanov v Sofiyska [2016] is a notable EU law case establishing that procedural rules of member states cannot bar the preliminary reference procedure which enables national courts of member states to seek guidance from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on the interpretation and application of EU law.

A Bulgarian court initiated a preliminary reference to the CJEU in a criminal case. According to EU Rules of Procedure Article 94, the court had to provide the factual and legal context of the case in the reference. The Bulgarian Prosecutor objected, arguing that such a reference violated Bulgarian law. Under national case law, even the slightest indication regarding the facts and law of a case could lead to a judge's disqualification. In the event of bias, the judge could be disqualified and face disciplinary proceedings.

In response, the Bulgarian court paused the proceedings and sought another reference from the CJEU. This time, the question was whether compliance with EU procedural rules, specifically the requirement to include the legal and factual context in a preliminary reference, undermined Articles 47 and 48 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. These articles guarantee the impartiality of the national court and the presumption of innocence.

The CJEU ruled that the preliminary reference procedure is not in breach of the Charter. Moreover, the national rule in Bulgaria that threatened judges with disqualification and disciplinary action for providing information necessary for a preliminary reference was found to be contrary to Article 267 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

The judgment emphasised the importance of the preliminary reference procedure in the EU judicial system. This procedure is essential for ensuring uniform interpretation, consistency, and the full effect and autonomy of EU law. The CJEU underscored that providing the legal and factual context in a preliminary reference is crucial for the CJEU to answer the question posed and allows other member states to offer their observations on the case.

Furthermore, the CJEU rejected the threat of disqualification and disciplinary action against judges, stating that such measures are contrary to Article 267 TFEU. This ruling reaffirms the foundational role of the preliminary reference procedure and the obligation of member states to support its effectiveness, even in the face of conflicting national rules that might hinder judges' participation in this process.
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