Political interference with the Hungarian judiciary

Fidesz politicians have a penchant for creating situations that call attention time and again to the fact that something is very wrong with democracy in Hungary. We have discussed on numerous occasions the many unconstitutional laws enacted by the Hungarian government that have been criticized by both foreign and domestic legal bodies. I don’t think we have to repeat what Kim Lane Scheppele has so eloquently told us over the years about these issues. Instead I would like to talk about a much less complicated case, one understandable even by those who have no knowledge of constitutional law or the intricacies of the legal systems of Hungary and the European Union. I’m talking about the Rezešová case.

Eva Rezešová is a very rich woman of Hungarian extraction from Slovakia. Driving while intoxicated, she had a very serious car accident in Hungary on August 23, 2012. Her BMW ran into another car carrying four people. All were killed. The public outcry was immediate and widespread.

I must say that I didn’t follow the Rezešová trial because I didn’t think that it could possibly have political ramifications. After all, it was an ordinary, if tragic, car accident. But Fidesz politicians manage to muddy (or, better, taint) the legal waters even in seemingly straightforward cases.

Rezešová was brought to trial, found guilty, sentenced to six years, and placed under house arrest until the appeals court re-hears her case. The prosecutor filed the appeal since he believed the verdict was too lenient.

Public outrage followed the announcement of the house arrest. The Internet was full of condemnations of the decision. After all, this woman who caused four deaths while driving under the influence didn’t deserve to live in a comfortable apartment in Budapest. News spread that her two children, who are currently in Slovakia, will join her and will attend school in Budapest while she is awaiting her second trial.

Antal Rogán decided to join the outcry. He took along a cameraman and delivered a short message in front of Rezešová’s residence, which he placed on his Facebook page. He expressed his disgust and, in the name of the Fidesz parliamentary caucus, called on the parliamentary committee dealing with legal matters and on the minister of justice to investigate the outrageous decision that Rezešová could spend her time between the two trials in the comfort of her home. That happened around 10 a.m. on December 4. A few hours later the announcement came from the court, which had originally ordered the house arrest, that they had changed their minds. Rezešová must return to jail because there is a danger of her escape. Observers were certain that there was a direct connection between Rogán’s demand for an investigation and the court’s change of heart.

Antal Rogán in front of Eva Rezešová's apartment house / mandiner.hu

Antal Rogán in front of Eva Rezešová’s apartment house / mandiner.hu

This may not be the case. The prosecutor appealed the case and also asked the court to reverse its decision on the issue of the house arrest. So, it is entirely possible that Rogán’s instructions to the parliament and the ministry just happened to coincide with the court’s announcement. Whatever the case, it doesn’t look good. It looks as if in Hungary politicians give instructions to the judiciary and these instructions are promptly obeyed.

Why did Rogán try to influence the court’s decision? Is he that ignorant of the notion of the separation of powers in a democracy? It’s hard to imagine. People consider Rogán one of the brighter politicians around Viktor Orbán. Perhaps as the national election approaches the Orbán government is ready to ignore the “fine points” of democracy as long as a gesture like Rogán’s is appreciated by the majority of the people. And, believe me, it is appreciated. On Facebook one can read hundreds and hundreds of comments thanking Rogán for “doing the right thing.” After all, if the judges don’t know what decency is, here is a man who does and who instructs them to make the right and just decision.

The Association of  Judges reacted immediately and pointed out that Rogán’s statement may give the impression of undue influence on the judiciary. The Association felt it necessary to defend the judges against any such interference. It announced that the Association cannot tolerate “expectations expressed by politicians in cases still pending.” The president of the Hungarian Bar Association found it “unacceptable that a politician expresses his opinion on a case before the final verdict.” He called Rogán’s action “without precedent.” And today even the chief justice of the Kúria (Supreme Court) alluded to the case without mentioning Rogán’s name or the Rezešová case. The issue came up in a speech by Chief Justice Péter Darák welcoming the new clerks and judges. He warned them never to fall prey to outside influences.

It is possible that Rogán’s ill-considered move  may have serious practical consequences. For example, what if Rezešová’s lawyer eventually decides to turn to the European Court of Justice claiming political influence in the verdict of the appellate court? It will be very difficult to prove that the two events occurring on the same day had nothing whatsoever to do with each other.

And there are other clouds looming over the Hungarian government with regard to its constant interference with the judiciary. Two days ago the Constitutional Court found the practice the Orbán government introduced of transferring cases from one court to another unconstitutional. This is not the first time the Constitutional Court ruled on the issue, but every time it found the law unconstitutional the government smuggled the same provision into either the constitution or some other law. Meanwhile the head of the National Judiciary Office (OBH), Tünde Handó, kept transferring practically all political cases at will to the far corners of the country to courts that she most likely considered to be partial to the government’s position. In 2011 thirteen and 2012 forty-two such cases were assigned to non-Budapest courts. These cases are still pending.

There are two possibilities now. One is to stop all the proceedings and start the cases over again, this time in the courts to which they by law belong. The second possibility is to proceed as if the Constitutional Court never spoke and have the courts hand down verdicts that will most likely be found null and void by the European Court of Justice. If I were the Hungarian government, I would opt for the former.

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Crampusz
Guest
The Rezesova action by Rogan was a slam dunk. Well done. First, the overwhelming majority of lawyers are Fidesz leaning, many are Jobbik leaning. Perhaps 15% lean towards any liberal/leftist ideology. But the point is even though the judges and attorneys may seem to be outraged, there is really no political damage to Fidesz, lawyers will love them the same, and they still have 2/3s with which they can regulate lawyers in any way Fidesz wants to. So Fidesz’ power and standing remain exactly the same. And since many more voters care about perceived justice than about formal notions of democracy and separation of powers, Rogan scored big. He delivered justice swiftly. No legal wrangling to death, but justice. Gesagt, getan. Though I agree that probably there was no political involvement, the cry from the public was enough for the second instance to put Rezesova behind bars, and such detention is actually in line with the courts’ practice. I guess the second instance was mad that the first instance put the court’s credibility at risk by letting Rezesova out. These are the best political games, when the opposite side is prevented from acting for various reasons. MSZP is afraid of… Read more »
Andy - Gung-ho! Lets go for-it!...
Guest

There’s another version that says that Rogan caught wind of the judiciary’s planned change of heart on the Rezeshova house arrest decision. At that moment Orban and Rogan decided to jump the gun on the judiciary’s announcement by making it seem as if they had the control to reign in the judiciary.

All they could see was the huge publicity stunt they would get out of this – in fact the whole shebang of the lenient temporary house-arrest might actually had been dreamed up by the crooks in Orban’s outsized ‘legal’ offices or election effort… And the whole scenario of lenient treatment, followed by government insitance for heavier treatment followed by court acting according to instructions.

By this point, the question of Rezeshova eventually getting off scott-free in the process became a minute detail where Orban’s constant effort at maximizing votes in support of their success in the upcoming elections has apparently now taken the lead on any and all fronts…

Andy - Plus Movie Rights.
Guest
I cant leave this out: I am smiling that Eva thought the Rezeshova case would be clean cut… On the contrary. Here we were all looking forward to the fun spectacle of a charged legal battle through the devious courts here. The dream Hollywood theme of of the Attractive, Young, Rich, Single Female who has a history of Affairs, Children born Out of Wedlock, a rich-and-famous family that is used to getting its way wherever it goes. Fast Cars, booze, huge egos, boyfriend chasing her over the border and down the highways, police sirens, open bottles of booze on the accident site, drug test left, right and center. Lawyers and technical specialists clamoring for the money being offered. Potential film revenues into the many tens of millions of dollars. Andy Vajna’s ears are ringing from the imagined bells chiming at the cash registers!!! The Hungarian goverment etc are also getting ready to receive a part of the windfall and publicity. Manipulation of the truth from top to bottom. Excitement, foreign film production taking place in Hungary. Everything is getting the wheels up and running again. There’s even morsels left for all the unemployed-and homeless extras… Job stats temporarily improving again,… Read more »
RSR
Guest

A moderate de-communistifucation could be useful for Hungary.
So many old MSZMP members hide in the government circles, while an even larger number hides in the general populations.
100s of lawyers and judges are paralyzed, can not act normally because of their past.
There is no hope for a normal civil society until the cases of these people will be revisited.
Most of them can be subject to amnesty, and relieved from the stigma of the any crimes.
The stage will be cleaned, and there will be no more arrogance and blackmail.

Some of the Orban-Szeles-like products will have to give up their privileges to participate in party politics, while others will return to the stage constructively and freely, and will exercise positive contribution.

Let us try to sort out a Real Social Renewal. RSR

tappanch
Guest

If there is someone “in the know” reading Eva’s blog, please explain to me why
the Central Bank & the Treasury come up with different numbers with respect to
the gross debt of the central government.

For example, gross debt of the central government on 09.30.2013., in 10^9 Euros [Forints]

according to the Treasury: 74.2 [22,085.4]
according to the Central Bank: 85.4 [25,421.3]

tappanch
Guest

The 10.2 billion euro difference is about the same as the nationalized in 2011 and spent former private retirement funds (10.6 billion euros)

tappanch
Guest

Correction:
The 11.2 billion euro difference is about the same as the nationalized in 2011 and spent former private retirement funds (10.6 billion euros)

petofi
Guest

Tappanch baby, you’re a rock. Keep on trucking.

spectator
Guest

Andy – Gung-ho! Lets go for-it!… :
There’s another version that says that Rogan caught wind of the judiciary’s planned change of heart on the Rezeshova house arrest decision. At that moment Orban and Rogan decided to jump the gun on the judiciary’s announcement by making it seem as if they had the control to reign in the judiciary.

About right.
Pretty much the same as when Orbán “sent home” the Russians after an agreement has been made about their withdrawal. The boys obviously know how to play the game and the public, utilise every possibility, while the opposition acting as a lame duck – with the probable exception of the DK, if even. Oh, well…

petofi
Guest

First you starve them and then you give them a little iv (eye-vee).
Why do people assume that those half-assed opposition members are on the level? Mesterhazy and others have families and kids–takes money.

And Orban? He’s got all the streams of income flowing directly to him.

Enuff said.

Guest

Nelson Mandela was a good man. He worked for unity and reconciliation in a split country.

Ivan
Guest

O/T. Sorry.

Any word on Hungarian reaction to Nelson Mandela’s death?

In all my travels, it is only in Hungary (at dinner parties with right-supporting folk) that I have heard the most terrible condemnation of Mandela, and even (unthinkable, really!) outspoken support of apartheid being voiced … I would hope, now, that Hungary at last manages to gauge the mood of the world.

Here was a man who suffered unimaginably – for decades – at the hand of an officially racist, authoritarian and undemocratic regime. Here was a man who embraced his enemies and torturers. And here, most pertinently, was a man who explicitly yearned NOT to have a super-majority, so that ALL strands of opinion, including those utterly opposed to him, could be reflected in a ‘rainbow nation’, post decades of horror.

His life, particularly after his release, made points that Hungary would do well to examine.

Spectator
Guest

@Ivan
His life, particularly after his release, made points that Hungary would do well to examine.
Sorry, it will never happen. And you know, why?
If they would do, they may have reach a conclusion which would put them clearly on colision course with the present “Hungarian Übermensch” national image, hence with their beloved leader, not to mention the only belief what remained to them to hang on a little while more.
This is the only thing, what nobody could challenge: being Hungarian.
Unfortunately nothing else is special anymore, being somewhere around the bottom of every thinkable comparison list, with such exceptions as divorce, suicide rate, alcoholism, smoking and the like.
So, just think about, what would happen, if even the dubious pleasure of discriminating a fellow human being would be taken away – or given up for some unthinkable reason – of them?
No way, clearly!

Spectator
Guest

Collision is double “l”, you know…

tappanch
Guest

Here is another manipulation of statistical data I think I decrypted to some degree.

The official GDP growth in the 3rd quarter, y/y was 1.8%. The growth in the agriculture contributed to 1.4% form this. They counted 27.6% growth in agriculture.

Well, it is true that corn production grew from 4.8 million metric ton in the very bad last year to 6.8, but the price has collapsed, went down by 37%, so the total value of the Hungarian corn produce went DOWN from $1.53 billion to $1.37 billion.

If you add the wheat production, the VALUE of (corn+wheat) is basically unchanged [went up by 2.4%]!

So the agricultural part of the GDP growth is mainly bogus, so the real GDP growth could not be more than 0.5-0.6%%

Paul
Guest

“In all my travels, it is only in Hungary (at dinner parties with right-supporting folk) that I have heard the most terrible condemnation of Mandela”

Well, our ‘great’ PM Margaret Thatcher famously labelled him as a terrorist. (The same Thatcher who claimed Pinochet as “a friend of the UK”, and arranged to have him spirited out of the country on a false diagnosis of dementia after he was arrested for human rights violations.)

And our current PM, whilst today claiming Mandela was his “personal hero”, went on an expenses paid trip to SA as a representative of the Tory Party in 1989. As the Daily Mirror put it “Cameron marked Mandela’s 26th year in prison sipping chilled wine with the apartheid state’s rulers.”

Ivan
Guest

@Paul. Right. Despicable. I never had the ‘pleasure’ of dinner with the Thatchers, though! As for the whole Pinochet thing, that was truly awful … Jack Straw’s behaviour – one moment leading student protests against the Pinochet regime, the next sorting out both his escape from justice and denying the answers that Pinochet’s victims’ families so badly needed – is wholly inexplicable and reprehensible.

But, in a Magyar context, the whole questions of reconciliation and attitudes to supermajorities really should be thought about.

Paul
Guest

Ivan – no chance. You’re up against some pretty solid cultural blocks there. The first reaction when anything goes wrong in Hungary is to work out who to blame (always someone on the other ‘side’) – no way a blame-free reconciliation will ever catch on there.

As for Mandela – my experience with any discussions re external politics (etc) in Hungary Is that people know very little of affairs outside Hungary, and care even less (true of all/most countries, but particularly so in Hungary). Attitudes towards Mandela are based purely on just one factor – he’s black.

Paul
Guest
Racism is complex in Hungary. My wife, for instance, has several afro-Caribbean and Asian friends, and is relatively colour blind where most black or brown people are concerned (more so, in fact, than the average native Brit). But she is racially blind where Gypsies and Jews are concerned – they can do no right. She has no problems with individual Jews, and can befriend and respect them as individuals, but she remains completely biased against Jews as a race. Gypsies, I’m afraid, simply don’t stand a chance. I’m tempted to say that Hungarian racism isn’t really racism, on this basis, as the feelings against Jews and Gypsies are deeply ingrained culturally and historically, rather than specifically based on racial grounds. However, I’m not going to say that, because I am way out of my depth here sociologically, and I am very reluctant to say anything that might be seen as some sort of attempt to cover up or apologise for Hungarian racism. But, comparing racism in the UK and Hungary, there IS a difference. For instance, the attitude towards black people is very much based on race and colour – but is also changing. Years ago, in Debrecen, when it… Read more »
Andy - Whims of God
Guest

I am amused, Paul by yuour theory that with time, discrimination becomes a permanent feature as indelible ink or a colour dye stains material forever, no matter the amount of bleach you might add… Maybe so with colorfastness and bleached materials but with human notions, these latter are always up for change according to the whims of God… Or like tornados that come and go leaving destruction in the wake…

DNAARN
Guest

Ivan:

the US of A only took Nelson Mandela of the so-called terror watch list in 2008. That is right, in 2008.

Also, you may remember that the CIA played an important role in Mandela’s arrest in 1962.

So, I guess it was politically correct to like Mandela in private conversations and in the media, but in reality he was, to put it mildly, disliked. He was apparently regarded as a dangerous Negro, even in his eighties and even when he was president of SA.

Hungarians are often racist, but more importantly they are more honest and blunt, less politically correct.

http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/africa/07/01/mandela.watch/

http://www.nytimes.com/1990/06/10/world/cia-tie-reported-in-mandela-arrest.html

NOX
Guest

The Hungarian Jews discussed the religion and politics in a few conferences in the 1860s.
No smart decision was achieved.
They had no good leaders, and neologs and orthoxia could not find a common language.
The future was ruined.
The Gypsies are an even worse case.
I doubt if they have ever assembled a national conference.

cs.d
Guest
Paul : Racism is complex in Hungary. My wife, for instance, has several afro-Caribbean and Asian friends, and is relatively colour blind where most black or brown people are concerned (more so, in fact, than the average native Brit). But she is racially blind where Gypsies and Jews are concerned – they can do no right. She has no problems with individual Jews, and can befriend and respect them as individuals, but she remains completely biased against Jews as a race. Gypsies, I’m afraid, simply don’t stand a chance. I’m tempted to say that Hungarian racism isn’t really racism, on this basis, as the feelings against Jews and Gypsies are deeply ingrained culturally and historically, rather than specifically based on racial grounds. However, I’m not going to say that, because I am way out of my depth here sociologically, and I am very reluctant to say anything that might be seen as some sort of attempt to cover up or apologise for Hungarian racism. But, comparing racism in the UK and Hungary, there IS a difference. For instance, the attitude towards black people is very much based on race and colour – but is also changing. Years ago, in Debrecen,… Read more »
spectator
Guest

I can’t help but keep on wondering, what in high Heavens is wrong with being a Human Being?
Nothing else, but Human!
Why isn’t it’s enough?
After all, there isn’t any higher category presently, is it?

OK, OK, except maybe the kind like comrade Orbán and Széles, but all the rest, please?

I am serious – for a change, that is.

Kate
Guest

Hi there,
I’m doing a paper on loopholes in European human rights law. Do you have any English sources that cite that,
“Meanwhile the head of the National Judiciary Office (OBH), Tünde Handó, kept transferring practically all political cases at will to the far corners of the country to courts that she most likely considered to be partial to the government’s position. In 2011 thirteen and 2012 forty-two such cases were assigned to non-Budapest courts. These cases are still pending.” ?

Thanks for any help (and for this enlightening post on the Birosag)!

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