Hungary’s New Judiciary Laws Are ‘Dangerous Precedent’

Civil Rights Defenders warns that law changes enacting a new administrative court system in Hungary and giving the Justice Minister more power will further limit the judiciary’s independence and could undermine its protection of fundamental rights.

On December 12, Hungary’s parliament adopted a new legislative package that envisages a new system of administrative courts being established by January 2020 and empowers the Justice Minister to select and appoint judges and decide court budgets.

The new courts will take over jurisdictions from Hungary’s established courts and will decide on issues including freedom of assembly and data privacy, elections, the work of police and state institutions, public procurement, taxation and construction.

With such competencies and under the direct control of the Minister of Justice, the administrative courts will inevitably be pressured to act as an extended hand of the government and limit protection of fundamental rights.

“This is a dangerous precedent that further diminishes separation of powers in the country by giving the Justice Minister unchecked power to influence the court,” said Goran Miletic, Director for Europe at Civil Rights Defenders.

Miletic added that the new law further diminishes the independence of the judiciary and highlighted that Hungary has not provided any reasoning for taking away competencies from established courts.

Contrary to the international standards on legislative processes, the new law was adopted in a rushed procedure, and in a non-transparent process, without public debate and without obtaining the opinion of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.

According to analysis by the Civil Rights Defenders’ partner, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, “these changes will expand government control over courts that up to now have been one of the last bastions of the rule of law in Hungary, despite their many shortcomings”.

This is not the first time Hungary is adopting legal changes that impede judiciary independence.

In 2011, the country adopted a new legal framework centralising the administrations of courts and giving more powers to the then established National Judicial Office and its president, which is elected by the Hungarian parliament.

Following close scrutiny from the Council of Europe and UN, the government made some changes limiting the powers of the National Judicial Office.

However, the Group of States against Corruption, GRECO, the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption monitoring body, in 2015 called on Hungary to minimize the potential risks of the National Judicial Office’s president making discretionary decisions on the transfer and assignment of judges and on making recommendations to the President of Hungary to appoint and remove heads of courts.

Civil Rights Defenders calls on Hungary to ensure that the country’s laws follow EU standards and recommendations that ensure independence of judiciary.