The Hungarian minister of justice and the independent judiciary

On February 7, 2009, a fight broke out in a Veszprém disco. Present were some star members of the local handball team. In the end, one of the players, Marian Cozma, also a member of the Romanian national team, was dead and two others were seriously wounded. It turned out that a group of Gypsies was responsible for the crime. Anti-Roma sentiments, always strong in Hungary, were inflamed. The description of the events as recorded a day after the event can be read on Hungarian Spectrum.

Soon enough the Austrian and the Hungarian police rounded up the suspects and in due course three of the chief suspects received harsh sentences. Iván Sztojka got twenty years; Sándor Raffael and Győző Németh, life.

Cases in Hungary are automatically reviewed by appellate courts. On April 27, 2012, the Itélőtábla of Győr (the Hungarian name of the appellate courts) had to make its final decision on the cases of these three men. And to many people’s chagrin Judge Zoltán Nagy lessened their jail terms. Sztojka instead of twenty years in a penitentiary received only eight years, while the other two received eighteen years each instead of life sentences.

Soon enough a Jobbik member of parliament, Ádám Mirkóczki, addressed a question to the prime minister concerning the verdict of Judge Zoltán Nagy. What kind of message is conveyed to the general public by these, in his opinion, far too light sentences? After all, a world-renowned sportsman was killed. According to Mirkóczki, members of the profession—I guess members of the judiciary, the world of sports, and all men of good will are outraged. “Only the murderers are satisfied.” In his opinion this case clearly indicates what’s wrong with the Hungarian judiciary today.

Viktor Orbán answered him in a way which in my opinion was inappropriate. He told the Jobbik MP that he agreed with his assessment and wished he could share his opinion with him in private but he cannot do so in public. After all, if he criticized the verdict he would give the impression that the government wanted to pressure the judiciary which is supposed to be independent.

That was bad enough, but what came afterwards was really outlandish. A day later, on May 15, Tibor Navracsics, minister of justice and administration, wrote a letter to Péter Darák, the new chief justice of the highest Hungarian court, the Kúria. Navracsics complained about the verdict, which upset public opinion. Navracsics asked Darák “to study the possibility of reviewing judicial practice.” Navracsics in fact repeated his opinion on the matter on the local TV station of Veszprém, Navracsics’s hometown.

Navracsics in this television interview told the audience that naturally he cannot influence the verdict itself. He simply wanted to know “the chief justice’s professional opinion on the practice of the Hungarian judiciary which doesn’t show the severity the public expects.”Gavel

If we think about this just a little we must shudder at the very suggestion. First, the minister of justice is putting pressure on the justices, demanding more severe sentencing. Second, Navracsics here suggests that judges should mete out sentences not according to the Criminal Code but should adjust their verdicts to public expectation. If we took this seriously, Hungary would, as Jobbik actually has been demanding, re-introduce capital punishment. After all, this is most likely what the majority of Hungarians would like to see. But for that Hungary would first have to leave the European Union.

Three days later Tibor Navracsics received letters from the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and TASZ (Társaság a Szabadságjogokért), the Hungarian version of the American Civil Liberties Union. According to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, “it is difficult not to interpret [Navracsics’s letter] in any other way but an attempt of putting government pressure on the members of the judiciary.”

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee very rightly pointed out the incongruity of such a letter from someone who for years taught at a law school. Of course, we ought to keep in mind that Navracsics, although he finished law school, didn’t teach law but political science to law students.

Navracsics felt compelled to answer the Helsinki Committee’s letter on the same day. He emphasized that he as the minister of justice is responsible for the operation of the Hungarian judiciary and if “he perceives deficiencies it is his moral duty to indicate them to the person whose responsibility it is to safeguard the uniformity of judiciary practices, and that person is the chief justice of the Kúria.”

Here I would like to remind readers that the Kúria is simply the new/old name of the Supreme Court. This highest court in Hungary was called the Kúria until 1949 when, following the Soviet model, it was reorganized and named “Legfelsőbb Bíróság.”  With the new/old name came a new chief Justice, Péter Darák who, most people suspected, was picked because of his good connections to Fidesz.

Darák showed remarkable independence today, however. He wrote a very polite letter in which he emphasized that “the Kúria finds the raising of such a subject unfortunate because it gives the impression that the Kúria has instruments or competence to interfere with the decisions of the lower courts when this is clearly not the case as it shouldn’t be in a constitutional state.” If the Kúria interfered it would violate the theory of judicial independence.

This letter indicates to me that the Hungarian judges are still jealously defending their independence and that intimidation has thus far been ineffectual. Let’s hope this remains the case. However, the Orbán government is resourceful and is able to change laws at will retroactively which can tie the hands of the judges. So, I’m not terribly optimistic.

 

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Paul
Guest

LwiiH – why on earth should I “wanna see poor”?
Not only do most of our friends and family live in the east and north east, but many of them either came over from Ukraine and Romania or still live there.
I have seen enough “poor” to last me several lifetimes.
And if that isn’t enough for you, I grew up in a house where only one room was heated (and then only in the evening) and there was never enough food. And much of my adult life has been spent counting the pennies at the end of every month. So I know “poor” very well, thank you.

Paul
Guest
Odin’s – “the full weight of the European court will fall on Hungary”. Hmmm. I rather think a dozen cotton wool balls would make more of an impact. Some considerable time ago, I worked for Lloyd’s of London, the insurance market. There were a series of scandals there during the 80s, when underwriters and brokers took advantage of the very lax regulation at Lloyd’s. Lloyd’s was effectively a ‘gentlemen’s’ club’, regulated (in as much as it was) by its own unique act of Parliament. People working in the Lloyd’s market were assumed to be honourable and of good character. And if they weren’t, the only sanction Lloyd’s had against them was to expel them. They couldn’t be fined or suspended, only kicked out – it was the ‘nuclear option’ or nothing. And the ‘nuclear option’ was too drastic to be used except in the most extreme of cases. As a result of this run of scandals, a new Lloyd’s Act was formulated and passed, giving the Committee many more powers. The market is now far better policed and regulated. Unfortunately, the EU is still at the stage Lloyd’s was in the early 80s. Members are expected to behave, and if… Read more »
Member

@Joe Simon Bugger off. Stop poking Eva with this idiotic Gyurcsany mania. You’re like a 3 year old.
CONVERT BREAKS: wysiwyg

joe simon
Guest

A belated comment on Gyurcsány. No matter what comes out of this affair, his political future is nil. Éva used to tell me that Gurcsány is ‘Magyarország megmentője’. Well, that he certainly ain’t. Sorry Éva, on this score at least you are mistaken

Member

Eva, canyou move Joe’s belated comment under the right post, please.
It would be extremely annoying to restart the conversation that has been going on under Gyurcsany alredy. If that is. If that is not possible I would have to copy and paste the many opinions posted already to benefit Joe who does not know how to go back to previous subjects.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Some1, it doesn’t seem possible to move Joe Simon’s comment. The only thing I could do is to unpublish it and then he could republish it under the right rubric.

Member

@Joe Simon Bugger off. Stop poking Eva with this idiotic Gyurcsany mania. You’re like a 3 year old.
But not much.

Paul
Guest

Éva – it could just be my PC, but there appears to be two versions of this post on WordPress, and one of those repeats itself.

Szilárd
Guest

Eva is attacking her own nation internationally. No further comments needed…

GW
Guest

Szilard: learn to read. Eva is not attacking any nation, she is reporting and commenting on the policies and performance of a government in Hungary. She has been amply critical of governments of all stripes, beginning with the socialist state in 1956 from which she was a refugee. In a democracy, governments come and go with the will of the electorate and that electorate can only decide on the basis of the best independent reporting and analysis available. If she is critical, it is because she is profoundly loyal to her nation, loyal enough to speak truth to power, and loyal for the best reason of all: she wants Hungary to be a better state for all of its people. Do you, Szilard, really hate Hungary so much that you would wish it any less than that, that you would settle for a mediocre nation, unwilling to work with constructive criticism rather than a better Hungary, willing to recognize that no single partisan government has a monopoly on truth or will always government competently? In contrast to you, Eva Balogh is a real Hungarian patriot.

Guest

Szilárd :
Eva is attacking her own nation internationally. No further comments needed…

London Calling!

Szilárd – In England we have complete freedom of the press. I can tell you from my observations alone – that the press in Hungary is anything but.

On this blog people tell it like it is – good or bad.

It’s called democracy.

You seem to have the ‘Orban-physche’ where any criticism – even of the tiniest negativity – is an attack on the nation of Hungary.

In England the BBC or press ‘attack’ our government all the time. Sometimes we may not like it – but we don’t go bleating to the world that we are under attack.

Btw – We are still laughing at the Matolcsy interview and Orban’s rebuffed ‘Save Veszprem’ economic solution! Yes you are a laughing stock of Europe.

But that’s democracy too.

If any journalist in Hungary wrote in this vein – their media company would not get any advertising and Orban would try and close them down. It’s called journalistic self censorship.

Anyway I have to stop now…I just want to see Matolcsy again!!!

Regards

Charlie

Member

Szilárd :
No further comments needed…

Indeed.

gdfxx
Guest

Szilárd :
Eva is attacking her own nation internationally. No further comments needed…

I guess Szilard’s problem (or at least one of them) is with “internationally”. Right, let’s keep this our internal secret. Why should the world find out about all the negative aspects of this government, of their quasi alliance with the openly Nazi Jobbik etc.

Member

Szilárd :
Eva is attacking her own nation internationally. No further comments needed…

Szilard, would you not report to the police if your son-in -law beats your daughter? It is your family after all, and why should you involve outsiders. Shame on you. High morals you have. No further comment needed.

Guest

London Calling!

Szilárd! Have a look at this! Ultra-sensitivity to criticism INSIDE Hungary.

It’s pants! What a hoot! (Really brave heroes in Hungary!)

http://www.politics.hu/20120613/eu-human-rights-court-rules-in-favor-of-hungarian-laundry-offenders/#commentbottom

Regards

Charlie

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