A Constitutional Crisis in the Hungarian Judiciary
“The Hungarian judiciary is facing a kind of ‘constitutional crisis’ since May 2018 while “checks and balances, which are crucial to ensuring judicial independence, have been further weakened within the ordinary court system”. These are findings by the European Association of Judges and the European Commission, both of which are following with concern the deterioration of the independence of Hungarian courts.
Beyond growing attempts by Hungarian authorities to exert political control over independent institutions, including courts, the independence of the judiciary in Hungary is severely threatened by a prolonged conflict between key judicial actors that is jeopardizing the effective oversight of court administration. The person responsible for court administration, the President of the National Judicial Office (NJO) is not cooperating with the judicial oversight body, resulting in a “constitutional crisis”. This oversight body, the National Judicial Council, found that the NJO President had breached the law multiple times regarding recruitment and promotion of judges, hence it requested the Parliament to dismiss the NJO President. However, on 11 June 2019, the Parliament’s ruling Fidesz-KDNP majority voted to keep her in office.
At the same time, the Government is planning to set up a heavily government-controlled administrative court system that will be separate from the ordinary courts. The new court system will have jurisdiction over taxation, public procurement and other economic matters, election, freedom of assembly, asylum and certain other human rights issues, as well as all kinds of decisions taken by public administrative authorities. Several domestic and international actors have expressed concerns over these changes in recent months, such as the European Commission, the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner and the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges.
Eight Hungarian NGOs, participating in the stakeholder consultation launched by the European Commission for its first annual Rule of Law Report, trust that the EC will make concrete, enforceable recommendations to EU Member States, hence also for Hungary on how to advance rule of law in the EU.
While judges feel they still can adjudicate relatively freely, the institutional independence of the judiciary hand has been severely undermined and the judges are under attack from multiple direction - according to a new report published by Amnesty International Hungary.
On 12 September 2018, the European Parliament voted to trigger proceedings against Hungary under Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union on account of the systemic threat to the core values of the EU. Five months later, the risk of a serious breach of core European values has increased as the Hungarian government and the ruling party further reduced the space for dissent and holding government accountable. This was achieved through enacting or enforcing laws that curb fundamental freedoms and further increase the government’s control over the media and the judiciary.