Wednesday

18th Jan 2017

Hungarian judicial reform has 'loopholes'

  • Small details render Hungary's judicial reform proposals problematic, says the the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (Photo: Scott*)

Hungarian reform proposals designed to revamp controversial judiciary legislation contain loopholes.

Laws that forced senior Hungarian judges into early retirement drew a barrage of criticism from the European Commission as well as the Strasbourg-based human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe (CoE), last year.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

But while Budapest tabled legislation to repeal them in December, a rule in its latest proposals says the judges are not allowed to reassume any leadership positions.

“It’s a loophole if the intention is to replace the entire judicial leadership,” Andras Kadar, co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee in Budapest, told this website on Tuesday (29 January).

The draft legislation is set for debate in the next few weeks but Kadar called the provision “dangerous because it means any judicial leader can be dismissed at a relatively low cost.”

The fundamental law that sparked the protest lowered the mandatory retirement age of judges to 62 from 70 in January 2012 and affected mostly senior judges with rank.

Hungary’s Constitutional Court found the mandatory retirement age unconstitutional in July and had them abolished.

The Venice Commission - an advisory body of the Council of Europe on constitutional matters – had also slammed the law, noting that it introduces “a unique system of judicial administration, which exists in no other European country.”

Another loophole was also introduced that props up the oversight powers of the President of the National Judicial Office (NJO), who is charge of court administration under the supervision of the National Judicial Council.

“The problem here is that the National Judicial Council is obliged to agree on its [own] budget with the president. So the NJO president has a say in the budget of the body that is there theoretically to control it,” said Kadar.

Meanwhile, Thorbjorn Jagland, secretary general of the CoE, presented on Tuesday the results of extensive dialogues with top Hungarian officials.

The CoE chief told journalists that a number of important advances were made since the launch of discussions in March last year and that the NJO is now more accountable for his or her actions.

“The outcome of our dialogue with the Hungarian authorities will in effect mean fewer powers and more accountability for the President of the National Judicial Office,” said Jagland.

The watchdog says the NJO President can no longer be re-elected for a second term and must answer to queries made by MPs concerning his or her duties.

The National Judicial Council may now also issue an annual performance opinion on the NJO president's judicial appointments. The council would also have the power to veto the president's decisions.

But despite the advances, the NJO president is still entitled to move cases from one court to another, a provision previously condemned by the Venice Commission, pointed out Kadar.

Estonia joins US in passing Magnitsky law

Estonia has voted to ban entry to foreigners deemed guilty of human rights abuses in a law targeting Russia and inspired by the Magnitsky case.

Children's rights at risk in EU hotspots

Lack of lawyers and other staff has caused logjams on asylum claims, which particularly hurt children, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency told MEPs.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Caritas EuropaEU States to Join Pope Francis’s Appeal to Care for Migrant Children
  2. UNICEFNumber of Unaccompanied Children Arriving by sea to Italy Doubles in 2016
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers"Nordic Matters" Help Forge Closer Bonds Between the UK and the Nordic Region
  4. Computers, Privacy & Data ProtectionThe age of Intelligent Machines: join the Conference on 25-27 January 2017
  5. Martens CentreNo Better way to Lift Your Monday Blues Than to Gloss Over our Political Cartoons
  6. Dialogue PlatformThe Gulen Movement: An Islamic Response to Terror as a Global Challenge
  7. European Free AllianceMinority Rights and Autonomy are a European Normality
  8. Swedish EnterprisesHow to Create EU Competitiveness Post-Brexit? Seminar on January 24th
  9. European Jewish CongressSchulz to be Awarded the European Medal for Tolerance for his Stand Against Populism
  10. Nordic Council of Ministers"Adventures in Moominland" Kick Off Nordic Matters Festival in London
  11. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhDs Across Europe on the Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU - Apply Now!
  12. Dialogue PlatformInterview: Fethullah Gulen Condemns Assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey