On 16.09.2021 the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) adopted Interpretative Decision No. 9/2021 (the Decision) on the regulation of the wholesale of food and flowers. The question raised concerns precisely about the scope of the administrative offences for trading outside the places designated by law. As is clear from the Decision, a conflict in practice arises when the offence is repeated many times. In that case, the question arises whether the administrative offences should be treated as a single manifestation of non-compliance with the law or whether each of them, despite the uniformity of the offences, should be treated separately under the Commodity Exchanges Act (CEA).
Both hypotheses are found in practice. On one hand, the reason for treating repeated offences as an overarching administrative offence to be treated and punished only once stems, according to legal practitioners, from the fact that this type of administrative offence is not subject to regulation under Article 18 of the Administrative Offences and Penalties Act (AOPA). According to the provision, ‘Where several administrative offences are committed by one act or several separate offences are committed by the same person, the penalties imposed shall be served separately for each of them’, which in turn means that in this case the sale of flowers and food outside the places established by law for this purpose, over a longer period of time, is not to be regarded as a multiple offence against the law, and the penalty imposed by the administrative authority would not be invalid if issued only for a single offence.
In the other hypothesis, maintained by many courts throughout the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria, it is precise that the above-mentioned provision refers to violations in the conduct of this type of trade. Legal practitioners support the hypothesis that the need to impose separate penalties arises from the factual impossibility for the individual to understand the gravity of the separate offences if they are not clearly distinguished from one another. The argument is based precisely on the contradiction which arises when written evidence is provided in the form of invoices and receipts from different dates and with different purchasers, and the impossibility of punishing each manifestation with a penalty if it is accepted that only one administrative infringement is committed.
The panel of the SAC considered at length the arguments in favour of both theories and decided by reference to the provisions of the SSTA and the CPA. The final opinion of the court is that when an administrative offence is committed when selling flowers and food outside the statutory places and when the offence is repeated, each offence against the law is treated and sanctioned separately.