Hungary

The Hungarian government wants tighter control of the judiciary, too

A proposal to amend the procedure of nominating judges would privilege legal bureaucrats and deter trained judges.

The ruling Fidesz party wants to amend the procedure of nominating judges in a way that gives significant advantage to candidates with a background in public administration and against candidates trained as judges. After 7 years of Fidesz rule, public bureaucrats are highly likely to be loyal party supporters.

If the bill proposal is accepted, we can only hope that Tünde Handó, the chair of the National Judicial Authority (OBH) elected by the governing Fidesz-KDNP coalition, will make the right choice. And even then, only till 2021.

Now, the nomination procedure favours candidates who have climbed the rungs of the judiciary ladder. According to 444.hu, the proposal would amend the procedure (drafted by the Ministry of Justice) in a way that in the roughly 120-point application system “a judicial secretary preparing to be a judge and working for 6-9 years would receive 6 points for professional experience. With the appropriate professional references, this could go up to 16 points. An administrative rapporteur working for 6 years can get 12 points for professional experience. With the appropriate professional references, this could go up to 32 points.”

Judges arriving from the public administrative system, dominated by Fidesz, will have advantage in the procedure.

In other words, while a judiciary professional history was previously more important in the nomination procedure, the reverse is now true, and judges arriving from the public administrative system, dominated by Fidesz, will have advantage.

This advantage, however, is not impossible to overcome. In the application, candidates can receive 2×20 points for subjective criteria, which depend on the deciding judges and the board of the OBH. Even the final list of nominees might be changed by the board, if the judges agree.

At first sight, it would seem like the judiciary will easily be able to retain its independence in the new procedure. Tünde Handó, however, was nominated by Fidesz, and her husband is also a loyal party member and MEP. Although in the past months she has seemed independent, sometimes even oppositional, this, in fact, is the result of an inner Fidesz power struggle: many from the party blame her for the dysfunctionality and questionable loyalty of the courts. And, just like many others in the judiciary, she is walking a fine line between supporting Fidesz and maintaining her professional prestige. Even so, there have been plenty of cases where Handó’s loyalty was unquestionable.

That is exactly why the new proposal is dangerous. Handó can be replaced if she is not perceived loyal enough, or at the end of her mandate in 2021 an even more loyal chair might be chosen to lead the OBH. The direction of those subjective 20 points might change, and the nominating procedure will tip the balance in favour of candidates coming from public administration, by then completely overtaken by Fidesz.

Administrative court cases also include corruption, data requests, elections. Precisely the type of cases Fidesz hasn’t been able to dominate yet.

Which is exactly what they need. Administrative court cases also include matters of corruption, data requests, and elections. These are precisely the type of cases in which the judiciary has been more or less independent, to the annoyance of Fidesz. If passed, the bill will take effect on January 1, a mere couple of months before the general elections.

Therefore, the amendment is problematic even now – but if the inner political balance of the judiciary shifts, it will bring judiciary independence to its end.

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This article originally appeared on Kettős Mérce. Translation by Anna Azarova.

Bio

András Jámbor

He is an activist and organizer of several demonstrations. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of Kettős Mérce, an independent blog of young journalists and authors and an online platform of young activists | www.kettosmerce.blog.hu