More people will now be able to obtain an electronic criminal record certificate

Expanding the range of people who are able to obtain an electronic criminal record certificate through a quick and intuitive procedure that only requires a device connected to the internet and a bank card are some of the main benefits of the centralised automated Judicial Status information system, which the Minister for Justice Krum Zarkov presented at a press conference today.

The system allows any citizen to obtain a criminal record certificate, regardless of their physical location in Bulgaria, Minister Zarkov said during the presentation.

You may recall that for many a year most political promises to expand e-government focused primarily on criminal record certificates. And visible progress is finally here — the government bodies that used to require a criminal record certificate for various services or registrations can now obtain the information ex officio instead of making citizens visit an office of the Criminal Records Bureau in person for a paper certificate. Information about whether we have prior convictions and the type of criminal offences that led to these is required in a variety of situations, such as applying to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Agency for National Security, applying for a gun permit or trading in securities.

However, in certain cases we will still be responsible for obtaining a criminal record certificate ourselves, for example, in order to be appointed at a private company or in order to register as a practitioner of a regulated profession, such as a doctor, an architect or a lawyer.

In these cases, since 2013 the government has provided the opportunity for Bulgarian citizens to request and receive a criminal record certificate electronically. To do this, however, an individual has to have a qualified electronic signature with an ID number and, until recently, the issuance of the certificates concerned was relatively costly, which is why only a few thousand people had them (company electronic signatures cannot be used in this case). Furthermore, the e-certificate could only be requested by people who were born in Bulgaria and had no prior convictions.

In all other cases, a visit to the office of the Criminal Records Bureau of the trial court having jurisdiction over a person’s place of permanent residence was required, because this was the only place where the criminal records of Bulgarian citizens born in the respective judicial district were kept on paper and in electronic form.

For several months now, however, the Judicial Status centralised automated information system has been fully operational, enabling almost all Bulgarian citizens to apply for a criminal record electronically. What do you need to do?

In addition to the traditional qualified electronic signature, the so-called cloud QES can be used (it is requested via a mobile application from the user’s phone and is free of charge after logging in to Bulgaria’s electronic authentication systems). In addition, citizens can also identify themselves with an identification code from the National Insurance Institute or the National Revenue Agency. An increasing number of Bulgarians have these codes because they use them to submit tax returns, make enquiries and request services from the two institutions.

Regarding payment, having a bank card, which almost all Bulgarians of working age do, is sufficient.

Regarding the restrictions that depended on the country of birth and judicial status, the system now allows applicants to request an electronic criminal record certificate, even if they were not born in Bulgaria and have a prior conviction or have paid a fined under Article 78a.

All of this is now possible owing to the new automated information system implemented by the Bulgarian software company TechnoLogica with financing under the Good Governance Operational Programme.

To achieve this, the company’s teams merged the data records of all 113 offices of the Central Criminal Records Bureau in Bulgaria. Thus, the data on the status of citizens will be processed and stored in a single database instead of the multiple local databases kept by the district courts having jurisdiction over the area where applicants were born. For many years, the local databases of the criminal record offices were updated manually, on the basis of court bulletins, meaning that the process was extremely unreliable, labour-intensive and difficult to supervise.

We had the honour and privilege to participate in yet another project that facilitates everyday life for Bulgarian citizens. Integration with multiple European and Bulgarian systems in real time will streamline the work of the Ministry of Justice. I wish the system longevity, same as the liens register that we developed, which has recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, Yonko Terziev, Head of Software Development at TechnoLogica, said at the press conference organised by the Ministry of Justice.

‘I would like to thank Mr. Terziev and everyone at TechnoLogica for their excellent work,’ Krum Zarkov, Minister for Justice, said.

Mihail Aleksov, President of the Pernik District Court, and representative of the Supreme Judicial Council in the working group on the development of the Judicial Status Centralised Automated Information System, also expressed satisfaction with the work of the contractor: ‘I would like to thank TechnoLogica who were extremely responsive and met all new requirements that were not included in the original terms of reference.

In addition to the changes in online service delivery, the new information system also enables paper criminal record certificates to be issued to all citizens from any criminal record bureau in Bulgaria, regardless of a person’s place of birth or address registration. The paper original of the certificate has a QR code linked to the electronic content of the document.

This is a great relief because district court reports show that citizens still prefer to apply for criminal records over the counter, and not online, which was probably due to the limitations that the electronic service provided until now.

For example, Sofia District Court, the largest trial court in Bulgaria, issues about 90 000 paper certificates a year — approximately 20 000 more than the total number of electronic documents issued by the Ministry of Justice to date. And if the data from the other 112 district courts in Bulgaria is added, the number of those who still prefer the analogue service is fairly impressive.

This ratio is likely to change with the promotion of the new electronic criminal record certificate, as access to the new service is already available to a maximum number of Bulgarians.

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