Judicial independence and rule of law in Hungary still under threat, according to new IBAHRI report

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In a report to be released today in Hungary, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) expresses concern that, following the significant legislative reform implemented during Hungary’s incumbent government’s first term in office, rule of law guarantees remain weak. 
The 2015 IBAHRI report, Still under threat: The independence of the judiciary and the rule of law in Hungary, assesses the implementation of 23 recommendations set out in the 2012 IBAHRI report on Hungary, which examined the impact of regressive legislative steps on judicial independence and democratic checks and balances. 
IBAHRI Co-Chair, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC commented, ‘We welcome the steps taken by the Hungarian government to address the gravest concerns expressed in the IBAHRI’s 2012 report. However, despite marked improvement in the legal framework regulating justice administration, implemented legislative reforms have failed to reinforce judicial independence and rule of law protections.’ 
Baroness Kennedy added, ‘The IBAHRI calls for further legislative measures to be implemented in order to safeguard judicial independence as, regrettably, subsequent constitutional amendment has further restricted the authority of Hungary’s Constitutional Court. The IBAHRI reiterates its call for the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court to be restored in full and recommends that the Hungarian government review the functioning and powers of the National Judicial Council to ensure that it can fulfil its role as Hungary’s independent body of judicial self-government.’
In recent years there have been signs of a shrinking civic space in Hungary. The reduced direct access to the Constitutional Court by which citizens have their constitutional rights adjudicated was a grave development, as has been the stripping away of the capabilities of the Constitutional Court to fulfil its fundamental role as the primary check on the powers of the parliamentary majority. 
The new IBAHRI report sets out 18 further recommendations aimed at strengthening the rule of law,  suggesting that the Hungarian government:
  1. reviews the judicial appointments procedure to ensure that the National Judicial Council, or a genuinely plural body with a majority of judges elected by their peers, makes the final decision on the selection, appointment and promotion of judges;
  2. repeals all provisions of national law that represent a limitation on the Constitutional Court’s jurisdiction;
  3. considers reforming the nomination procedure of the Constitutional Court judges to ensure that no political party dominates the procedure;
  4. allows civil society organisations maximum space to operate freely and without unlawful interference or intimidation; and
  5. reconsiders the abolishment of the four-year limit on pre-trial detention for certain crimes. 
IBAHRI Co-Chair Ambassador (ret) Hans Corell stated: ‘The IBAHRI’s 2015 report sets out how Hungary’s rule of law framework could, and should, be strengthened. We encourage the Hungarian government to show full commitment to the rule of law and to organise its justice system in accordance with best-practice principles and implement the report’s recommendations necessary for Hungary to create an environment of a credible and strong protection of an independent judiciary, an indispensable component in a modern society under the rule of law and a prerequisite for respecting the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.’
The report launch will take place from 1000–1130 on Thursday 10 December 2015, in Ceremonial Hall (Díszterem), Budapest Bar Association, Szalay u. 7, Budapest, H-1055. Click here to RSVP to the event. 
Notes to the Editor
  1. From 19–23 March 2012, a high-level delegation from the IBAHRI conducted a fact-finding mission to Hungary to assess the impact of new laws entering into force at the start of 2012 on the independence of the judiciary. The resulting IBAHRI report, Courting Controversy: the Impact of the Recent Reforms on the Independence of the Judiciary and the Rule of Law in Hungary, expressed concern at, among other issues, infringements of judicial security of tenure and the Hungarian government’s tendency not to respect decisions of the Constitutional Court. The report set out 23 recommendations. To read the report visit tinyurl.com/d8oczsz.
  2. On 22 March 2013, the IBAHRI called on the Hungarian government to revoke the Fourth Amendment to the Fundamental Law, adopted 11 March 2013, which limited the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court, contrary to basic notions of judicial independence. To read the IBAHRI press release, click here.
  3. From 15–19 June 2015, the IBAHRI convened a delegation of legal experts to undertake a follow-up visit to Budapest primarily to assess the implementation of the IBAHRI’s 2012 recommendations. The delegation held 25 individual and group consultations with key stakeholders including: representatives from the Ministry of Justice, Hungary’s two judicial administration institutions (the National Judicial Office and the National Judicial Council); the Hungarian and Budapest Bar Associations; the diplomatic community; and civil society. The delegation met with senior judges from the Constitutional Court, the Kúria (the Supreme Court of Hungary) and with court presidents. The delegation also met with a former Minister of Justice and a former chief prosecutor.
  4. The 2015 mission delegation comprised:
    i. José Igreja Matos, Vice-President, International Association of Judges
    ii. Chara de Lacey, Programme Lawyer, IBAHRI
    iii. Nick Stanage, Barrister, Doughty Street Chambers, IBAHRI Mission Rapporteur
  5. The report was compiled in accordance with the Guidelines on International Human Rights Fact-Finding Visits and Reports (the ‘Lund-London Guidelines’). For more information on the Lund-London Guidelines, visit: www.factfindingguidelines.org.
  6. The International Bar Association (IBA), established in 1947, is the world’s leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Through its global membership of individual lawyers, law firms, bar associations and law societies, it influences the development of international law reform and shapes the future of the legal profession throughout the world.

    The IBA’s administrative office is in London. Regional offices are located in: São Paulo, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Washington, DC, US, while the International Bar Association’s International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme (ICC & ICL) is managed from an office in The Hague, the Netherlands.

    The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  7. Twitter handle: @IBAHRI
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