This was excellent news for the entrenched former Deputy Mayor of Budapest and socialist Member of Parliament.
The battle in the ECHR was however just half of this week’s struggle in what many people have dubbed the Hagyó case, actually a trial of 15 associates of the Budapest Transit Company.
Immediately prior the commencement of the trial in June 2012, President of the National Judicial Office Mrs. Tünde Handó – essentially the top judicial administrator – authorized an application from the Budapest court system which requested that the Hagyó case relocate from Budapest. The official reasoning behind the transfer lies in a controversial amendment to the infantile Hungarian constitution, the Foundational Law, which was hastily created and passed with the emergence of the Fidesz-dominated parliament in May 2010.
The constitution, having been effected in January 2012, permitted the creation of Handó’s position, which allows its fulfiller the capability to promote and demote judges and prosecutors at will, and the ability to transfer cases if the applicant court thinks its system is burdened with too many cases. On the surface the power appears to promote judicial efficiency. Great!
In fact, according to a recent judicial review conducted and published by the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, Hungary indeed has one of the speediest judicial systems in the EU.
There is a disconcerting issue about another discovery in the judicial review, though. According to the analytical criteria of the publication, Hungary’s court system is not so objective, not so fair, and hardly balanced. Herein lays the widespread criticism of Handó’s ability to transfer cases. In Hungary, tribunals are usually associated with a political perspective, and the concept of a jury does not exist in the Hungarian judicial system. The judge overseeing a trial is the courtroom deity, the sole arbiter of guilt or innocence. If that judge is a party loyalist, which is historically true in Hungary, then the trial’s verdict is rarely perceived as objective.
So, when Handó agreed to transfer the Hagyó case from Budapest, generally considered a politically neutral court system as it is situated in the most politically diverse Hungarian city, to the tribunal in the much smaller and politically monotonous city of Kecskemét, where Fidesz loyalty spoils the wine and the water, eyebrows were naturally raised. However that probably wasn’t the case for Miklós Hagyó, whose head likely fell into his hands.
The Constitutional Court (CC) ordered Handó to testify before their judges last week, presumably in relation to her rationale in transferring the Hagyó case. When the Court made the announcement that they would hear Handó, proponents of a better judicial system celebrated, since this was perceived as the CC’s defiant stance against Fidesz’s overreaching, power-grabbing efforts to intimidate and overwhelm the independence of the CC.
In a disappointing turn of events however, the CC announced that the hearing would take place behind closed doors. This generated cries of foul play from the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the Hungarian Helsinki Commission, and other supporters of a more transparent Hungary. So far, I have not been able to find an announcement about the passing of the hearing between the CC and Handó.
The decision from the European Court of Human Rights comes in a time when major European political organs, human rights watchdogs, and the talking heads of the ominous western media lay waste to every move of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his party loyalists, many of whom have been conspicuously promoted to top administrative positions throughout every branch of government despite their lack of logically necessary qualifications. Perhaps not since the dissolution of the Iron Curtain has the world focused its critical lens on the small Central European country.
Will the judicial system continue to be the submissive lapdog, feigning respect for transparency and independence until its trainer commands it to lie down and play dead? Time will tell how the ECHR decision will affect the Hagyó case, if at all.