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A Sauron’s eye in the Hungarian justice system

A Sauron’s eye in the Hungarian justice system

In April 2024, the Hungarian Parliament passed a new law which, like Sauron’s eye, allows the government to acquire protected information to which it would not have access otherwise, interfere in ongoing processes and influence their outcome. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee and Transparency International (TI) Hungary have released a joint analysis on the new law and its possible outcomes.

Less than a year after taking remarkable steps to strengthen the independence of courts to gain access to frozen union funds, the Hungarian government is back again on its decade-long agenda to dismantle the system of checks and balances and undermine the independence of the justice system. In breach of the non-regression principle established by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) under Article 19(1) TEU, that precludes the adoption of laws on the organisation of justice which constitute a reduction of the protection of the rule of law and guarantees of judicial independence, a new law passed by the Hungarian Parliament in April 2024 eradicates the organisational independence of courts and the prosecution service at a crucial point.

Act XVII of 2024 on the Amendment of Laws related to Justice Matters grants the Minister of Justice (MoJ) unlimited access to decisions delivered by the judiciary, the prosecution service and other autonomous state bodies and government agencies mandated to limit and independently review the exercise of public powers.This possibility – like Sauron’s eye allows the government to acquire protected information to which it would not have access otherwise, interfere in ongoing processes and influence their outcome. In some cases, the mere possibility of having access to decisions may suffice to influence the outcome of the procedures, in other cases, the government can interfere by immediate law-making.

As usual, the Hungarian government used instrumental law-making as a tool and remains technical in reaching its goal of bending independent institutions to its needs. While the new provisions might seem as legal nuances, their detrimental consequences to the independence of the justice system are wide-ranging and severe. The new law is not only a clear response to the judicial reform, but it can also be translated as a reaction to the biggest corruption scandal of the past years (the Schadl-Völner case that has raised the strong suspicion of direct high-level government involvement in a very serious corruption case), providing the executive with tools to prevent effective investigation in similarly high-profile corruption cases in the future.

The joint analysis by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and Ti-Hungary is available here.

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