Hungarian justice when it comes to Fidesz

In left-liberal circles the outcry reaches the skies. The Capital Court (Fővárosi Bíróság) after a year of postponing the decision finally delivered its verdict: the Fidesz members of parliament led by Viktor Orbán who decided to dismantle the cordon the police had put up to defend the parliament building are innocent.

The background: one day in February 2007 the Fidesz delegation (with a few cautious exceptions like Antal Rogán) walked out from the parliament building with wrenches in hand and in front of some amazed and paralyzed policemen methodically began taking apart the heavy metal gates that had been linked in order to make sure that none of the far-right groups could get too close to the building. The Budapest court responsible for the case postponed the decision, allegedly because they wanted to know what another court would decide concerning the legality of setting up the cordon in the first place. At last this decision was reached in February 2008: the police acted lawfully, the cordon was legal. So the court of Budapest should have decided that its forcible removal was illegal. After all, even the president, László Sólyom, was horrified when news reached him about Viktor Orbán’s strange sense of legality. That a member of parliament takes justice into his own hands. He made one of his rare public condemnations of a Fidesz action. Those who don’t particularly like Fidesz or Viktor Orbán were elated when they heard that after all the other court had decided in favor of the police. They were sure that Orbán and his fellow parliamentary members would be found guilty and would most likely be fined. Great was their surprise and disappointment yesterday when it became known that the court, without hearing any arguments, decided in favor of the defendants. The court’s decision is final.

Although the court reached its decision on April 26, to this day their reasoning has not been made public. Yesterday Róbert Répássy, the man responsible for legal matters in Fidesz, announced the news. Although Répássy and fellow members have the text of the decision, they refuse to make it public. Instead they cherry-picked exculpatory parts. The police won’t comment and, of course, the court says nothing. In the part made public by Répássy, the verdict said that the removal of the cordon "posed such a minimum danger to society" that fines are not warranted. The Fidesz members only "symbolically" expressed their "antipathy toward the decision" to set up the cordon, and their act "didn’t actually try to hinder police measures."

I must say that the whole thing sounds scandalous to me, and I’m not alone. Most legal experts find the verdict incredible, and they are afraid that it may prove a dangerous precedent. The ordinary citizen might say that he has an aversion toward the stop sign at the corner of a street he often travels on and therefore will dismantle it. He will do it methodically, wrenches and all, and will be careful not to damage the sign. Will he be responsible for his act? Of course, one could claim that the removal of the stop sign poses a greater danger than removing the cordon. But what if after removing the cordon a drunken mob had attacked the parliament building? Would the court then have decided differently? That is, would the removal have been more than symbolic?

The message of this verdict is devastating: it tells Hungarians that important people can do whatever they want and nothing will happen to them. After all, the police behaved in a cowardly manner when they just stood and watched what was going on instead of arresting Orbán and his fellow parliamentarians. What would have happened if Joe Schmo (József Kovács) and his fellow hooligans began, however carefully, to dismantle the cordon? One doesn’t need a great deal of imagination. The police would have stopped them, handcuffed them, and taken them to police headquarters. And the cordon would have stayed. One can perhaps say the same thing about the court: the judges were afraid to fine Orbán and 79 of his fellow parliamentary members. Perhaps it occurred to them (and not without reason) that if Orbán and his friends return to power there will be consequences. So much for the independent Hungarian judiciary or the bravery of the police and the courts.

Népszava managed to learn about sections of the verdict not made public by Répássy, according to which the Fidesz members of parliament violated the law. "The duty of the police is to ensure public safety and to defend public order. The setting up of the cordon occurred in order to fulfill these duties. The law was violated by the very people who should, because of their position, most jealously defend the legal order. The defense of the legal order demands the observance of the rules and regulations of the democratic state. This should be especially observed by members of parliament. Open resistance against lawful acts of the police seriously damages the norms of society." Then why did the panel of judges think that Orbán and his colleagues were not guilty? There is no real legal explanation. Even Répássy yesterday couldn’t give a coherent defense of the verdict. He kept repeating:  "It is a very complicated legal issue." Sure thing! The explanation can be found only outside of the law.

A couple of years ago during the election campaign, Viktor Orbán made a speech that leaked out. In the speech he outlined Fidesz’s plan to campaign until the last minute, which is illegal under Hungarian law. He urged his men to campaign on Saturday and Sunday. Yes, it is against the law but no problem: his lawyers will find some clever way to get out of a sticky situation. And the wheel keeps turning.

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This isn’t so shocking to me as it seems that form my limited perceptions of Hungarian society that there seems to be one set of rules for the hierarchy and one set of rules for everyone else. (To be fair, this happens in just about every society to a great or lesser degree of openness.) After all, the elites of Hungary consort in the same circles, so there’s much more noblesse oblige that is afforded to one another rather than to the everyday József. Given that, and to what I was told that Hungarian law does not operate on precedent like American law does.
Am I wrong?


Hungarian law isn’t based on stare decisis (precedent or case law) de jure, except in the some of the higher court decisions. So, there is little or no jurisprudence constante so judges can act independently, but legal decisions can be both unpredictable and chaotic.
Why not just call this the anti FIDESZ blog. Like others have said THERE IS NO SPECTRUM.
n.b. …et quieta non movere.