Recommendations aimed at restoring the independence of the judiciary in Hungary
Judicial independence is being systematically undermined in Hungary. The series of attacks that began in 2012 with the mandatory retirement of senior judges are aimed at extending political influence over the judiciary. After the plans to set up a separate administrative court system under close control of the Justice Minister were recently cancelled, some might have thought that this process has come to a halt. However, Bill T/8016 submitted to Parliament on 12 November 2019 would, if adopted, enable the Government to circumvent the ordinary court system in politically sensitive cases. The Bill was submitted to the Parliament without any consultation with key stakeholders and the public. Furthermore, it does not contain any remedies to the structural deficiencies that created the constitutional crisis within the system of judicial administration between the President of the National Judicial Office (NJO) and the National Judicial Council (NJC).
The Fidesz-led government is still disinterested in empowering the NJC and in enabling it to exercise meaningful oversight over the NJO President. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights “is of the opinion that the Bill in its current form may have a negative effect on the internal independence of courts and judges and fair trial guarantees for individuals”.
The present situation calls for urgent steps to both prevent the immediate threat posed by the Bill and to remedy the long-standing systemic deficiencies of the system, thus restoring and safeguarding judicial independence.
Hence, Amnesty International Hungary (AI Hungary) and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) recommend that
1. Reduce the extensive powers of the NJO President, with special regard to the appointment of judicial leaders.
2. Reinforce the NJC structurally, in order to ensure that the NJC can effectively carry out its task set by the Fundamental Law, and be able to supervise and counterbalance the powers of the NJO President. To that end, among others,
3. Restore and ensure the NJC’s proper and effective functioning to allow for effective supervision over the NJO President, among others, by
(a) ensuring that the NJO President takes all measures within his/her power to organize an election of NJC members as soon as possible, in order to elect the missing members of the NJC;
(b) setting a clear deadline for electing the substitute members of the NJC;
(c) ensuring that the NJO President respects the NJC’s prerogatives and complies with the NJC’s resolutions and requests;
4. Protect the integrity of the NJC’s judge members by taking effective measures to guarantee that they can exercise their statutory rights and obligations of safeguarding judicial independence through, among others, formulating and disseminating critical opinions on the administration and independence of the judiciary without any undue interference. More effective protection should be ensured against intimidation, attacks on their reputation as well as retaliatory administrative and other measures.
Recommendations on judicial leadership appointments
- In order to challenge the NJO President’s practices in declaring application procedures for judicial leadership positions unsuccessful without any substantive reason, that was found by the NJC unlawful, and to strengthen the collective approach in the appointment process,
Recommendation on administrative courts
8. Amend the Fundamental Law and remove from it the reference to administrative courts. Ensure that any related legal reform or constitutional change is introduced only after an open and inclusive public debate about the judicial system and judicial independence.
Recommendations on an enabling environment
Joint report by Amnesty International Hungary and the Hungarian Helsinki Commitee with regard to the independence of the judiciary in Hungary.
The Hungarian Helsinki Committee and Amnesty International Hungary prepared a comprehensive timeline to showcase the Hungarian government's constant attacks on the independent judiciary.
Despite this week’s mass protests in Budapest, the Hungarian President has signed what has become known as ‘Slave Law’ and another piece of legislation establishing a new administrative court that would undermine the independent judiciary, rendering them under the influence of the Minister of Justice.
Today the Hungarian Parliament adopted a new law that renders the administrative court system under the heavy influence of the Minister of Justice. Previously the administrative courts were organically independent institutions but from now on the Minister will have dominant influence over who might become a judge or the president of the court.