This week, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his ruling party Fidesz rammed a law through parliament that poses a new threat to the independence of the country’s judiciary.
The law creates a separate administrative court system that will handle cases directly affecting basic human rights, such as elections, right to asylum, right to assembly, and complaints of police violence.
Administrative court systems may be familiar to people in France, Sweden, Germany, and elsewhere. The problem in Hungary is that the courts will be at risk of significant political interference by the executive.
The minister of justice has wide-ranging powers under the new law. The minister will get to pick judges and court presidents and decide on promotions and court budgets without any effective judicial oversight, allowing the post enormous potential to control the workings of judges and the courts. The fact that a politician, who is part of the executive branch, will select all judges in a court system responsible for holding the administration and the executive to account makes a mockery of the separation of powers and rule of law.
The government rushed the law through parliament without waiting for the opinion of the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body, on the law expected in January 2019. President Janos Ader, whose signature is needed for the law to enter into force, should send the bill back to parliament until the Venice Commission issues its opinion.
This is the latest in a series of assaults on the judiciary and rule of law in Hungary. In its eight years in power, the Orban government has packed the Constitutional Court with its preferred justices and forced 400 judges into retirement. The president of the National Judicial Office, responsible for the administration of the courts and overseeing judicial appointments, is Orban’s close friend’s wife.
Now more than ever, Orban’s counterparts across the European Union and his political allies in the European People’s Party should send the message to Hungarians that they won’t be complicit in Orban’s endeavour to destroy the independence of their judiciary.