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Hungary to set up new government-controlled courts

December 12, 2018

The administrative courts will take over cases about government business such as taxation and elections. The government says the courts will be able to handle cases efficiently, but critics question their partiality.

Symbolbild Justiz Gericht Richterhammer
Image: picture alliance/imageBROKER

Hungary's parliament passed a bill on Wednesday to establish a new administrative court system to deal with matters related to public administration.

The courts could hear cases on a wide range of matters, including those involving police, tax authorities, public procurement procedures, local governments and elected officials.

The government said independent judges will preside over the courts, however, the justice minister will oversee the courts, having the final say over the appointment, promotion and salary of judges in the new system.

The new administrative courts, including a new separate supreme court, will start operating in 2020.

'Threat to rule of law'

The government said the courts will be able to handle cases more efficiently, but critics said the move would allow political interference in judicial matters.

"[This law] is a serious threat to the rule of law in Hungary and runs counter to values Hungary signed up to when it joined the European Union," the Hungarian Helsinki Committee rights group said in a statement, arguing that the new court system allows the government "to 'legally' fill the judicial body with people loyal to it."

"As the bill undermines the separation of powers, the boundaries between the executive and judicial power in Hungary will be blurred, and it could pave the way for the government’s political interference."

EU parliamentarians have warned Budapest over the country's anti-democratic direction. In September, European lawmakers voted to impose sanctions on Hungary for disregarding EU rules on democracy, civil rights and corruption.

The Hungarian government said it has already asked for the opinion of the Venice Commission, an arm of the Council of Europe, a human rights body, comprised of law experts. The government said it would assess the commission's views and may make changes to the legislation.  

dv/sms (AP, Reuters)

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