Fidesz and the judiciary: Another attempt at pressure

It was more than five years ago that one of the worst natural disasters occurred in Hungary, at the Magyar Aluminum Zrt. in Ajka. The storage facilities gave way and toxic red sludge covered three villages nearby, killing 10 people. The international media was full of the case, and I myself spent days discussing the Orbán government’s handling of the disaster. As usual, in no time the tragedy became a political football. Viktor Orbán and his undersecretary for the environment declared that the owners of the company were guilty even before the investigation began. The prime minister threatened the owners a few days after the disaster: “This affair will not end up the way that was customary in past years…. A new era started a few months ago in Hungary.”

As time went by, however, it became obvious that the fault lay with those so-called experts who in the mid-1980s, when the reservoirs were built, decided to locate them on a spot that was geologically unsuitable for carrying the enormous weight of the sludge. A disaster was unavoidable. The only question was when it would occur. The new owners who bought the facility in the mid-1990s, however, were assured at the time of purchase that the reservoirs were sound. And only two weeks before the accident state inspectors, recently appointed by the undersecretary in charge of the environment, certified that they were still sound.

Five years later the district court in Veszprém found the accused executives and employees of MAL innocent. The 15 defendants were cleared of all criminal charges, including reckless public endangerment.

Environmental groups and the people affected by the disaster were dismayed and Fidesz was outraged. The job of officially voicing this outrage was given to Szilárd Németh, a man with no legal training and a bully of limited mental powers. As was already evident in 2010, right after the accident, Fidesz politicians have little regard for the independence of the judicial branch of government in general, but Németh’s involvement guaranteed that there would be a frontal attack on the Hungarian judiciary.

On the day that the verdict was announced Németh expressed Fidesz’s dissatisfaction with two recent verdicts that didn’t meet their expectations. One was the three-year suspended sentence for Miklós Hagyó (remember the infamous Nokia box?), whom the prosecutors wanted to send to the penitentiary for twenty years for crimes committed as part of a conspiracy. Instead the charge was reduced to being an instigator of misappropriation. The other case, of course, was the MAL acquittal.

Szilárd Németh, expert on energy and the law

Szilárd Németh

The first question is why Németh got the job of dealing with a situation involving the judiciary. Németh has no legal training. He got a degree that prepared him to be an elementary school teacher and librarian. Mind you, the other Fidesz politician who spoke on the issue, Bence Tuzson, does have a law degree. Both he and Németh insisted that Fidesz “finds it unacceptable that no one is culpable” in such a dreadful case. Naturally, they respect judiciary independence, but they want not only “the administration of justice but also the administration of equity.” Németh and Tuzson “emphatically called on the prosecution” to appeal the verdict. According to Németh, the judge was wrong. The people responsible for the tragedy can be identified–the executives and employees of MAL.

Yesterday Németh gave a press conference during which he further elaborated on Fidesz’s insistence on “doing something” about the faulty verdicts in the red sludge and the Hagyó cases. Hagyó, formerly MSZP deputy mayor of Budapest, was, he said, a crime boss who deserved a very stiff sentence. The “judge misunderstood the charge presented by the prosecution.” I might add that Péter Polt’s prosecutors are frequently “misunderstood.” There are two possibilities: either they prepare their cases so poorly that the judge has no choice but to rule in favor of the accused or the charges are fabricated against Fidesz’s political adversaries. I suspect the latter is the more likely.

According to Németh, there are serious problems with judges who don’t want to follow the stricter laws the government introduced as a result of the wave of migrants and instead “run abroad where they ask for a change of the clearly successful new laws.” Németh is referring here to the latest ruling of the European Court of Justice against the anti-terrorist surveillance legislation that would have allowed TEK, the anti-terrorist group, to conduct activities that the court deemed illegal.

What does Fidesz plan to do about judges who don’t toe the party line and decisions that run counter to the party’s wishes? First, the party’s parliamentary caucus will have a discussion on this sorry state of affairs next week, and perhaps the following week the Fidesz chairman of the parliamentary committee on justice, György Rubovszky (KDNP), will put the question on the table. Németh added that, if necessary, the committee will ask Péter Darák, chief justice of the Kúria, Hungary’s highest court, and Tünde Handó, chairman of the National Judicial Office mentioned in yesterday’s post, to testify. In addition, it may be necessary to amend the criminal code to remedy this situation. He said all this while claiming that although Fidesz “respects the liberal demand of judicial independence,” it wants to enforce “democratic demands of transparency and accountability.” I didn’t realize that judicial independence is a liberal notion, but if that is the case, in an illiberal state like Hungary it can obviously be constrained.

Today in a popular blog, Vastagbőr (Thick Skin), a guest blogger, N. L., a lawyer, had a few things to say about Németh’s ideas. According to Németh, the verdicts in these two cases are scandalous, which rightly rouse the indignation of most people. This may even be true, N.L. wrote, but that shouldn’t be brought up as a valid argument against the verdicts because this would lead to the administration of justice by outraged individuals. N. L. very much hopes that neither Péter Darák nor Tünde Handó will oblige the head of the parliamentary committee on justice in case he decides to haul them before the committee. Otherwise, they would violate the law, which states that “a judge must avert all attempts at influencing his decisions.” Their appearance in front of that committee would truly be “the end of judicial independence.”

The Association of Hungarian Judges published a short communiqué, which stated that Németh’s statement “by itself violates the independence of judges declared in the Basic Law” against “exerting pressure on judicial bodies, including the courts.” Péter Darák also made a statement in which he expressed his dismay over the public expression of personal opinions and expectations vis-à-vis the courts. This is especially true, he said, when it is uttered by representatives of another branch of government. Tünde Handó has not yet expressed an opinion.

February 1, 2016
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petofi
Guest

Total ‘drama’ for the benefit of the public: Fidesz as ‘champions of Right’. Laughable. The little theater, I suppose, was to prove the ‘independence’ of judges, no?

Anyway, who does not know that the judges know in advance–atleast, the judges in Orban’s Hungary–what verdict is expected? So, all this ‘to-do’ is to appear to side with the common man. A sick joke, really.

Hungaricum.

“Szelhamossag” to the end of the earth–a Hungarian’s one true talent.

Guest

Re: ‘A sick joke…’

If only to highlight the contradiction in the Orbanic predilection in his orations to profess such a deep concern of democracy in a country’s Constitution as well as in the executive, legislative and judicial processe of the nation.

The contradictions indeed show in high relief how Orban has moved the political goalposts in the country . Ostensibly it comes off as a continuing desire for a democratic Hungary as well as a democratic Europe. But given the sound of the gavel and the resulting loud enunciation of ‘order in the court! ‘ would appear to be just a means to more and more greasy ‘kolbasz’ sandwiches on the menu for the Fidesz judicial dinner plate. Yes the zsir is bad but what the hell it greases black robes and lawyerly suit pockets.

dos929
Guest
Let me elaborate on and quote: “…Szilárd Németh, a man with no legal training and a bully of limited mental powers…” This crony of the Orban regime is not the only one with ‘limited mental powers’. The regime is stuffed with people like him, with no formal education or real experience, many of whom claiming higher degrees that are fraudulent, etc… These servants of the regime are in positions as high as the ex-President’s, Pal Schmidt, or the head of the Roma Association (both are not only cheats, but criminals) or Mrs. Laszlo Nemeth, ex-minister, with no higher education than a high school matriculation, but in charge of an important state organisation even now, etc… etc… They are all personal darlings of Orban, and selected for their subservient qualities and nothing else… The blatant attack on the remains of the mostly only in name independent judiciary that still has some decent judges, really shows the nature of the regime. Alarm bells should have rung already over 5 years ago, when Orban with decrees (let’s face it, the laws he brought in by parliamentary votes are not democratic instruments; they are just decrees…) thrown out the Constitution and created a ‘Basic… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

“Fidesz & the judiciary” – in spite of minor setbacks, the judiciary is increasingly in Fidesz’s pockets.

Eleven of the 15 “Constitutional” court judges are Fidesz appointees. The forcible retirement of senior judges had its effects – look at the recent “Kuria” (Supreme Court) decisions. (only a few judges were reinstated to their original position after the European court decision against the forced retirement).

The younger the judge is the more likely s/he will follow the Fidesz party instructions – her/his promotion depends on Orban’s personal friend, who is appointed as the chief of the judiciary.

tappanch
Guest

Both Fidesz appointees, Mr Darak (chairman of the Supreme Court) and Mrs Hando (head of the judiciary) have rejected fidesznik Mr Nemeth’s public call to overturn the Hagyo & red sludge verdicts.

“Respect the independence of the judges” – said the no-so-independent & hypocritical Mrs Hando.

http://444.hu/2016/02/02/hando-tunde-tartsak-tiszteletben-a-biroi-fuggetlenseget

oscar
Guest

tappanch: You totally misunderstand it.

“rejected fidesznik Mr Nemeth’s public call to overturn the Hagyo & red sludge verdicts.”

The courts – on appeal – can and may indeed overturn the verdicts.

In both cases (Ajka and Hagyó) there may be two additional instances and only god knows how the senior courts will decide.

Moreover, the second instance may remand the case back for a retrial at the first instance (such was the case e.g. in Kulcsár case which now has a new 1st instance judgement after perhaps 10 years) after which two instance can still come.

This is not a done deal.

Remember the Metro line 4 case which was ultimately changed to favor Orban’s government at the final. sixth instance (due to the complex procedure, in 5 prior decisions the judgement favored Budapest against the state, after which a novel argument put forwards by Nagy és Trócsányui was accepted and the case was won by the state). The judge writing that judgement was duly promoted afterwards. Things are much worse now within the judiciary, so this resistance by Darák and Handó is most likely just a show.

tappanch
Guest

” this resistance by Darák and Handó is most likely just a show.” Agreed.

Observer
Guest

Disagree. This sort of dissent is too important a media event to be planned just for show. And, to my surprise, the judiciary is still doing its job in many important cases.

emed
Guest

Look, Ms. Handó talks to the Orban family on a regular basis. Her best friend is Orban’s wife (a lawyer herself). Do you seriously think they never talk shop?

Look at last week’s decisions of the Kúria on the referendums which overturned the decisions of the electoral boards (fully packed with fideszniks) which earlier allowed the referendums. The decisions favoring the government were abysmally reasoned.

The court system by now is full of fidesznik judges. Of course it has many more people than the constitutional court so it takes more time to replace everybody. But make no mistake positions of influence are only given to politically reliable people.

tappanch
Guest

The Human Rights court in Strasbourg just released its judgment index.hu vs Hungary.
The web portals are not responsible for the comments of their readers.

“The foregoing considerations are sufficient for the Court to conclude that there has been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention”

http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{%22documentcollectionid2%22:[%22GRANDCHAMBER%22,%22CHAMBER%22],%22itemid%22:[%22001-160314%22]}

oscar
Guest

Again misunderstanding: not responsible if the web portal takes the comment off which is what the claimant wanted in the first place.

Web portal are responsible if the comment stays.

webber
Guest

Who misunderstood what?
Hungary lost yet another case in Strasbourg.
Once again, Hungary and its courts are shown to bring decisions in violation of European law.

oscar
Guest

“The web portals are not responsible for the comments of their readers.”

That was tappanch’s conclusion. This is not a true statement or at least it is highly misleading.

Web portals are responsible if they don’t take the problematic message off, ie. if they don’t moderate the comments. Put it another way portals will have to moderate the comments.

Surely the case is a much better outcome than if index lost it, but web portals are not totally exempted from liability.

tappanch
Guest
“59. The Court has found that, as a matter of principle, the rights guaranteed under Articles 8 and 10 deserve equal respect, and the outcome of an application should not vary according to whether it has been lodged with the Court under Article 10 of the Convention by the publisher of an offending article or under Article 8 of the Convention by the person who has been the subject of that article.” “79. The national courts were satisfied that it was the applicants that bore a certain level of liability for the comments, since they had “disseminated” defamatory statements (…), however without embarking on a proportionality analysis of the liability of the actual authors of the comments and that of the applicants. For the Court, the conduct of the applicants providing platform for third-parties to exercise their freedom of expression by posting comments is a journalistic activity of a particular nature . Even accepting the domestic courts’ qualification of the applicants’ conduct as “disseminating” defamatory statements, the applicant’s liability is difficult to reconcile with the existing case-law according to which “punishment of a journalist for assisting in the dissemination of statements made by another person in an interview would seriously… Read more »
Member

An OT but relates to Eva’s yesterday post: http://erdely.atlatszo.hu/2016/01/07/5-ev-alatt-tobb-mint-4-millioba-kerultek-erdelyben-a-demokracia-kozpontok/ I don’t see this long writing translated to English. The tip of the iceberg.

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