The act amendments submitted as reactions to the criticism by the Venice Commission do not provide sufficient guarantees to protect against corruption risks in the judiciary. Though the proposed measures bring some improvement compared to the legislation in effect, the proposal still leaves problems of the judiciary on the whole unresolved.
The government submitted its proposal on the amendment of the judicial acts on 16 March 2012 without hiding its aim to ease the serious national and international criticisms targeting the laws. Transparency International Hungary (TI) pointed out regarding the amendments beforehand, that even though the proposed changes reduce several corruption risks, they still do not contain enough guarantees to ensure independence.
The amendment proposal aims to limit the unparalleled power of the president of the National Office for the Judiciary (NOJ) carrying out administrative tasks by strengthening the competences of the National Judicial Council controlling the central administration of courts. However, despite of its broadened competency the Council won’t be able to hinder the president of the NOJ to assign cases or appoint judges arbitrarily.
There are still no sufficient guarantees to elect the president of the NOJ without political influence and limit arbitrary reassignment of cases. No matter that the president now has to consider the recommendations of the Council when reassigning cases, the decision remains in the President’s hands. TI emphasizes again that without an amendment on the merits that sole decision might infringe the right to fair trial. „To preserve the independence of the judiciary in fact further guarantees and accountability is needed concerning the election and competences of the president of the NOJ as well as increased transparency regarding the operation of the judiciary.” – said Noémi Alexa, the leader of the Hungarian chapter of the anti-corruption organization.
Who becomes a judge and who does not might also depend on the sole decision of the president of the NOJ according to the regulation in effect. The proposal has limited that exceptionally strong mandate by declaring that the consent of the Council is required. Though when there is no agreement, the President might still cancel the application and call for a new procedure.
It endangers the transparency of the judiciary that the resolutions of the president of the NOJ and the applications for judicial positions are not published. TI still misses the effective complaint mechanisms and regulations on investigating whistleblower reports. Right now it is not obvious what to do within the courts if someone tries to influence a decision or corruption claims arise.
Therefore the proposal does not fully comply with recommendations of the Venice Commission either. The government has only settled the questions partially and left systematic problems unresolved.
“Effective steps and not pretense solutions are needed to restore faith in the judiciary. If people cannot trust in courts to decide their cases independently, then any anti-corruption effort becomes pointless.” – added Noémi Alexa.