Ungarn: Court reform - establishment of administrative special courts

The Hungarian Parliament adopted the law on the restructuring of the administrative courts in December 2018. The new law will take effect on 1 January 2020.

Radical change
According to the currently still valid law, the administrative courts are part of the ordinary court system. With the new law, this will be changed radically: The administrative courts will function as special courts and therefore be fully separated from the ordinary court system.

In the new system, the Administrative Court has jurisdiction in the first instance and the Supreme Administrative Court has jurisdiction in the second instance. Two parallel case law systems are created with the new regulations. For the ordinary jurisdiction the Supreme Court (Curia) is the highest court and for the administrative jurisdiction the highest court is the Supreme Administrative Court.

Influence of the Justice Minister
The administrative courts have jurisdiction in legal disputes regarding decisions of the state bodies (such as decisions by the tax authority or the competition authority).

The Minister of Justice is the central administrator for the administrative courts. He has extensive authority to determine the personnel, budget and organisational and operational regulations. The Minister of Justice is even entitled to appoint the administrative judge. These powers could threaten the independence of the courts and in general the principle of the rule of law. Although an independent self-administration body consisting of judges is set up by the new law, the powers of this body are limited to the right to respond and consultation. Therefore it is clear that the new law grants the Justice Minister extensive potential influence. In view of the aforementioned statements, it is evident that the new law threatens the independence of the courts and the principle of separation of powers.

Statement of the Venice Commission
The constitutional experts of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe have reviewed the provisions of the draft of the new law and have criticised the far-reaching potential influence of the justice minister that, in their opinion, combines the most important areas of authority in one place with no effective control. In addition to the criticism, the Commission has also included several proposals in their opinion. The task of the Venice Commission is to review whether the individual national standards correspond to the European constitutional law. It is not to be expected that the Hungarian government will make changes to the law based on these proposals.

Author: Laura Simon