This is not a joke. András Cser-Palkovics, vice-chairman of the parliamentary commission on constitutional issues, said that the government believes that limiting the presence of defense lawyers in the first 48 hours in certain "special" (kiemelt) cases is essential because "if there are no such limiting rules, the goal from the very first minute is slowing down the procedure." I.e. the goal of the accused and his lawyer.
That reminded me of a conversation I heard between a caller and György Bolgár a few weeks ago. The caller turned out to be a man who holds extreme political views. It was difficult to ascertain whether these views were coming from the right or from the left, but it really doesn't matter. Just like Cser-Palkovics, this fellow was very dissatisfied with the slowness of court procedures. And he recalled the speedy trial of Archbishop József Grősz of Kalocsa and 24 others. Grősz was arrested on May 18, 1951, and on June 28 he was found guilty and received a jail sentence of fifteen years. On June 31 the case went to the court of appeals which left the verdict unchanged. Of the 24 others 15 received death sentences in the same speedy manner. Our caller suggested that perhaps the present regime could learn something from the 1950s. The whole conversation was chilling.
Mr. Cser-Palkovics, I agree: defense lawyers are an awful bother. They slow things down. "The citizens expect speedy trials, especially in corruption cases involving members of city councils, mayors, members of parliament, and members of the central government." And what kinds of cases did Cser-Palkovics have in mind? Surprise, surprise, the example he offered was "Sukoró," where an Israeli-Hungarian citizen–as they never tire of mentioning–tried to set up a hotel-entertainment-casino complex that would have employed 3,000 people. It is this case on which Viktor Orbán, who doesn't forget or forgive, pins his hopes for jailing Ferenc Gyurcsány, prime minister at the time of the proposed real estate swap that would have made the deal possible.
The Sukoró case is very weak and although Gyula Budai, the Orbán government-appointed commissioner, has been trying for almost a year to find evidence of Gyurcsány's guilt, until now he has come up empty-handed. The case got so far as a request to parliament to suspend Ferenc Gyurcsány's parliamentary immunity, but even the Christian Democratic chairman of the committee deciding on immunity cases found the request so weak that he asked for further proof. Weeks have gone by and still no word from the prosecutors.
Just to give you an idea of how Fidesz lawmakers operate, here is the history of this particular piece of legislation. On Monday István Balsai, chairman of the committee on constitutional affairs, turned in the proposal in his own name. As it turned out, the proposal was drafted by the Central Office of the Investigative Prosecutor (Központi Nyomozó Főügyészség = KNyF). According to Gergely Bárándy (MSZP), "KNyF has such a reputation among practicing lawyers that among themselves they call the office AVH [the dreaded political police of the Rákosi period] because of their style and the way they conduct business." He ought to know. Both his father and his grandfather are practicing lawyers.
According to Balsai's proposal, in the so-called "special cases" the accused could be held for 120 hours instead of the current 72, which is already considered high by European standards. In the first 48 hours he couldn't meet with his lawyer. So, if he is being questioned in the first 48 hours he can have no lawyer present. The prosecutors in these "special" cases could also decide which court should hear the case. A most peculiar suggestion. The Helsinki Committee called it "absurd." While the accused must appear in the court in his district, the prosecutors can pick and choose their favorite judges. All that again in the name of expediency. For the fast handling of "special" cases. At least that is what they claim, but one must be suspicious about the prosecutor's real motives: to send the cases to judges that would rule in their favor.
Also maddening in these outlandish proposals of the Fidesz members of parliament is that they usually justify them by bringing up fictitious foreign examples. This was the case with the media law and it is the situation with this proposal as well. Cser-Palkovics announced that "there are similar rules in the Anglo-Saxon legal system as well as in Belgium and in France." I'm madly searching in my mind for similar rules that would prevent the accused from having a lawyer for 48 hours in the U.S. legal system and I can't come up with any. Yesterday András Giró-Szász, a so-called political scientist who is a fervent Fidesz supporter and apologist, in a round-table discussion on ATV (András Bánó's "A tét" [The stake]) kept insisting that in France there are restrictions similar to the proposed Hungarian law. The others present naturally didn't know what the situation was in France, but one of the participants commented that he doesn't care what the situation is in France, he wouldn't want to live in a country where such a piece of legislation is on the books. As it turned out, the French law Giró-Szász was talking about no longer exists.
As for the "general discussion" of the proposal. On Monday the Balsai proposal was released for "general discussion" by the whole parliament. On Tuesday the session started at 1 p.m. The agenda consisted of all sorts of fairly mundane points, including a discussion of whether the anniversary of the Battle of Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) of 1456 should be a holiday. The speaker of the house (László Kövér, Fidesz) is in charge of the schedule. And, behold, this very important legislative proposal was dead last on the agenda. It was discussed at 6 a.m. the next morning! By that time there were only four people in the House because they had to be there: they were the designated keynote speakers (vezérszónokok). I consider these tricks absolutely childish. Do they really think that they can fool anyone? That people will not notice that they are planning to pave the way for political show trials? Because most lawyers are convinced that this is precisely what they are doing.
The Hungarian Bar Association is planning to turn to the Constitutional Court because they consider the proposed legislation unconstitutional even under the new Fidesz Constitution. The Helsinki Committee pointed out to members of parliament that Balsai's bill doesn't conform to the stipulations of the European Commission on Human Rights. The Helsinki Committee predicted that if this bill is passed the case will end up in the European Court of Human Rights. They called the whole idea illegal and absurd. People who still remember the Rákosi regime kept referring to similar changes in the legal system before the show trials began. The outcry in the legal profession can be called uniform.
And adding insult to injury, Viktor Orbán nominated István Balsai to be one of the new judges on the Constitutional Court.