03/12/2012 06:39 PM

Fair Trial At Risk

Report Slams Hungary's New Constitution  


The new constitution introduced by right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been widely criticized as a means for the controversial leader to consolidate his power. A confidential Council of Europe report obtained by SPIEGEL declares that parts of the reform violate basic democratic rights.

The right to a fair trial is a cornerstone of democratic values, but it's one that is threatened by Hungary's new constitution, according to a report seen by SPIEGEL. The previously confidential document, written by the Council of Europe's legal advisory body, the Venice Commission, suggests that key points of the constitution flout not only European standards, but also put the right to fair trial in question.

"The reform as a whole threatens the independence of the judiciary," the 30-page document states.

The authors also sharply criticize the newly created Hungarian National Judicial Office (NJO). The new president of the NJO, elected by the parliament in December 2011, has the right to name judges, transfer them and to decide which cases they will be allowed to rule on.

"In no other member state of the Council of Europe are such important powers, including the power to select judges and senior office holders, vested in a single person," said representatives of the Council of Europe, an international organization and watchdog for human rights in a total of 47 member states in the European region.

The National Judicial Office president has "wide discretionary powers mainly not subject to judicial control," they added.

EU Taking Action

As soon as the parliament in Budapest has installed a leader, they have no ability to supervise that person. "The report is alarming," said Andreas Schwab, a member of the European Parliament with Germany's conservative Christian Democrats. "We are in discussions with our Hungarian colleagues about these shortcomings."

Just weeks after the new Hungarian constitution went into effect this January, the European Commission launched legal action against the country for violating EU laws with the new legislation, which also curbs the independence of the national central bank and the data protection agency. The European Commission rarely takes such action, which reflected international concerns over President Viktor Orbán's increasingly authoritarian policies.

The new legislation also permits a cabinet minister to participate in meetings of the central bank's monetary council, requiring the council to send the government the agenda of its meetings in advance, and forces the central bank governor and council members to take an oath of loyalty to the country.

Budapest has also lowered the retirement age of judges to 62 from 70, in addition to other organizational changes for courts. The move has raised suspicions that the government wants to get rid of troublesome judges and state prosecutors.



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