Hungary to set up courts overseen directly by government, sparking fears of political interference

Critics argue decision will allow right-wing government to undermine rule of law

Krisztina Than
Wednesday 12 December 2018 16:23
Viktor Orban re-elected as Prime Minister of Hungary

Hungary has passed a law to set up courts overseen directly by the justice minister, a move critics said would allow political interference in judicial matters and further undermine the rule of law.

The administrative courts will take over cases about government business such as taxation and elections currently handled in the main legal system. The government said the courts would be presided over by independent judges who would be able to handle cases more efficiently.

The justice minister will have big powers in appointing the judges and will oversee the courts’ budgets.

Rights groups said that compromised the separation of the executive and judicial powers in what they see as a further step towards authoritarianism by right-wing prime minister, Viktor Orban.

“[The law] is a serious threat to the rule of law in Hungary and runs counter to values Hungary signed up to when it joined the European Union,” the rights group Helsinki Committee said in a statement. “As the Bill undermines the separation of powers, the boundaries between the executive and judicial power in Hungary will be blurred and it could pave the way for the government’s political interference.”

In September, the European parliament voted to impose sanctions on Hungary for flouting European Union rules on democracy, civil rights and corruption. Hungary rejected the accusations.

The new administrative courts, including a separate new supreme court, will start operating in 2020.

“Like any other court, public administration courts will be filled with independent judges solely governed by the word of the law,” the government’s spokesperson said on his blog.

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The government has requested an opinion from the Venice Commission, a panel of constitutional law experts of the human rights body Council of Europe, about the legislation.

The Venice Commission confirmed it has received the request and is expected to adopt an opinion next year. It declined to comment further on the matter.


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