On 12 November 2019, the Hungarian Government submitted a Bill to the Parliament which, if adopted, will have a significant negative impact on judicial independence, however, in a much more covert and technical way than the earlier, withdrawn plan to put administrative courts under the Minister of Justice.
The Bill is substantial and amends several pieces of legislation. The most conspicuous problems are the following:
1. The draft was never published on the Government’s website, although this would be required by law, and so the first time the wider public (including important stakeholders of the justice system) was made aware of the plans was when the submitted Bill got published on the Parliament’s website. This shows a continued lack of will to enter into professional dialogue with civil society.
2. If the Bill is passed, not only private parties but state bodies will also be provided with the possibility of filing constitutional complaints with the Constitutional Court. This would enable state authorities to channel the judicial review of their decisions outside the ordinary court system, to the Constitutional Court, which has been rather helpful towards the Government in recent years.
3. In terms of the Bill, Constitutional Court judges could very easily become judges of the Curia (Hungary’s Supreme Court) after their judgeship at the Constitutional Court is terminated. This way the ruling majority (which – having a two-third majority in Parliament – can elect Constitutional Court justices without any participation of the opposition) can gradually increase the number of loyal judges at the Curia.
4. Finally, the Bill does not contain any suggestions concerning the structural deficiencies that created the constitutional crisis between the President of the National Judicial Office (NJO) and the National Judicial Council (NJC). This seems to suggest that the ruling majority is still not interested in empowering the NJC and creating a meaningful control over the actions and omissions of the NJO President.
The full statement of the HHC can be downloaded here.