A delegation of the LIBE Committee [Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs] of the European Parliament visited the Curia of Hungary (“Curia”) on 30 September 2021, in the morning.
Placing great emphasis on the professional preparation of the courtesy visit of the delegation, the Curia devoted almost a week to preparatory works so that the delegation can be provided with sufficient information on the issues identified in advance as being of interest for the delegation.
The heads of the Curia readily welcomed the delegation but were shocked to realise that the LIBE Committee delegation – which is effecting a country visit to Hungary and which treats judicial independence as a top priority – addressed a whole range of political questions to the Curia, the highest judicial forum of the Hungarian judiciary. The President of the Curia drew the delegation members’ attention to the fact that the Hungarian Fundamental Law prohibited for all Hungarian judges to be engaged in any political activities under stricter terms than the ones usually applied in Europe. The Curia could not take a stance on the explicitly political issues that were raised by the delegation, who were reminded of the fact that the Curia could not express any opinion or make any statement on such issues. The President of the Curia also drew the delegation's attention to the fact that the Curia had reacted to certain erroneous findings made in the European Commission's 2020 Rule of Law Report in the parts concerning the Curia, had published its additions and corrections on its website, and had sent those comments not only to the institutions of the European Union, but also to the main forums of the Member State jurisdictions. As to the question concerning the role of the Curia in the Hungarian judicial system, the President of the Curia provided the information that the decisions of the Curia could be challenged before the Hungarian Constitutional Court, which could even annul the Curia’s decisions.
Upon a question the delegation was informed about the most important stages in the legal history of the transition to the rule of law after the Communist dictatorship. Quoting Dr. László Sólyom, the first President of the Hungarian Constitutional Court, and a decision of the Constitutional Court, the President of the Curia pointed out that the regime change in Hungary took place on the basis of legality. The then President of the Supreme Court, Dr. Pál Solt kept political disputes outside the walls of the court already at that time in order to ensure judicial independence, a criterion of the rule of law.
Dr. András Patyi, Vice President of the Curia pointed out that administrative adjudication has existed in Hungary since 1990 as another cornerstone of the rule of law. As a result of the constitutional transformation, final administrative decisions became challengeable in court, and in 1994 the Administrative Chamber of the Supreme Court was established. Administrative cases account for almost half of the cases brought before the Curia even today.
The heads of the Curia assured the delegation that in the exercise of their profession the judges involved in the administration of justice respect fundamental human rights not because of the concerns or instructions of anyone, but in compliance with the provisions of the law, primarily the Fundamental Law of Hungary, and the provisions of binding international law. As to the issue of judicial independence and, in that context, the competence of the President of the Curia, the President of the Curia explained how the right to a legitimate judge at the Curia was enforced. The Curia fully complies with the three criteria set out by the Constitutional Court in this respect, namely that the allocation of cases must be public, predictable, and impartial. The President of the Curia gave a detailed account of the transparent, automatic case allocation system supported by safeguards, approved by the Chambers, opined by the Judicial Council of the Curia, and made available on the Curia's website. In response to a question by the delegation the President of the Curia confirmed that applications for judgeships at the Curia were determined in transparent proceedings set out in law, forming part of judicial independence.
In response to a delegation question concerning disciplinary proceedings against judges, the President of the Curia explained that in Hungary a special service court dealt with judges’ disciplinary cases, which court was independent of the other courts, including the Curia. The President of the Curia also pointed out that according to the Court of Justice of the European Union, from among Member State judges, Hungarian judges turned most frequently to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling. The Hungarian Constitutional Court also confirmed the three criteria specified by the ECJ as allowing Member State judges to make a reference for a preliminary ruling. Namely, where EU law is applicable (which is not always the case), where there is a serious dispute as to the interpretation of EU law, and where there is no previous interpretation by the ECJ of the law to be applied by the judge.
As to the delegation’s remark that there was nothing extraordinary about a parliamentary committee wishing to engage in a dialogue with a Hungarian court, the President of the Curia, who fully respects the principles of judicial independence and separation of powers, could not help but request again the LIBE delegation to understand that what they were asking was impossible. As it was accepted in European legal culture and as was customary and prescribed in Hungary under the Fundamental Law of Hungary, a judge could not be asked a political question, and making a court politically accountable was unthinkable. Such an attempt was unacceptable not only by members of the Hungarian legislature but also by members of the European Parliament. Therefore, under no circumstances could a judge or a court engage in a formal dialogue with a political body. Even the suggestion of such a dialogue is unconceivable. For that reason, the Curia considered the LIBE delegation as a guest of the Curia, just as the university students and other visitors interested in the history and functioning of the Curia.
Hungary has bitter memories of the era having existed a few decades ago, when politicians kept instructing judges, and no one wants to see such a system back. For the same reason, the Curia cannot accept even advice from politicians, nor does it wish to give advice itself, and the delegation was asked to respect this standard. The President of the Curia held that no reason of whatsoever could justify a violation of the dignity and authority of the judiciary and the court by a courtesy visitor.
Budapest, 30 September 2021
The Communications Department of the Curia