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Hungary

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary. Courts generally functioned independently, although reports of political pressure on judges by senior members of the government increased during the year.

On May 2, the National Judicial Council (OBT) adopted a report that said the National Office for the Judiciary (OBH) president–who maintains broad executive authority to manage the courts–did not always comply with the law when appointing judges and court executives. The report concluded for instance that OBH President Tunde Hando declared a bid for a candidate in a senior-court judge position invalid without explanation and despite an independent selection panel’s support of the candidate, had not explained her personnel decisions in several cases, and her assessment of applicants’ bids for senior court positions was not transparent. Hando responded by asserting the OBT report was illegitimate due to the resignations of a large number of OBT member judges earlier in the year, initiating disciplinary actions against four OBT member judges, and calling some of them “traitors of the country.”

The prime minister and other senior members of the government publicly criticized court decisions, including some that remained open for appeal. In May the prime minister was quoted by his press chief as saying that the Curia (Supreme Court) was “intellectually unfit.” Also in May government-aligned media accused specific Curia judges by name of being “obvious antigovernment actors” and called the Curia itself “a political player.”

On June 20, parliament passed an amendment to the constitution that separates administrative cases from the ordinary court structure, and on December 12, it passed a law creating a new administrative court system. The law creates eight new regional administrative courts and an Administrative High Court (AHC), which will take over all competences of the ordinary courts and the Curia in administrative cases, including those related to public procurement, civil liberties, complaints against police action, asylum cases, freedom of information requests, and tax decisions. In the new system, the justice minister will hold significant power in selecting and appointing new judges to the AHC and lower administrative courts, appointing court presidents and judges to senior positions as well as promotions, determining the administrative court’s budgets, and shaping the new court system during the transitional period of 2019, when new judges, new court presidents, and senior judges will be appointed. The hiring criteria for AHC judges will apply greater weight to ministerial and government experience than to judicial experience, leading some observers to be concerned that judges will be selected based on political loyalty. The government argued a new court system was necessary to improve efficiency in deciding administrative cases and noted a similar system existed in the country from 1896 to 1949. An October report based on 2016 data by the Council of Europe’s European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice on judicial efficiency in Europe found the country’s courts to be effective and relatively fast in returning decisions.

During the year Transparency International Hungary continued to criticize the right of the prosecutor general to give instructions to subordinate prosecutors in individual cases, to take over any case from any prosecutor, and to reassign cases to different prosecutors at any stage of the procedure without providing justification. In 2015 the Council of Europe Group of States against Corruption released a report expressing concern that the prosecutor general may remain in office indefinitely after the expiration of his or her nine-year term until parliament elects a successor by a two-thirds majority vote.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Suspects have the right to be informed promptly of the nature of charges against them and of the applicable legal regulations, with free interpretation as necessary. Trial proceedings are public, although a judge may minimize public attendance and may order closed hearings under certain conditions. Trials generally occurred without undue delay. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial.

The law stipulates that the investigating authority shall schedule the interrogation to enable defendants to exercise their right to a defense. A summons for a court hearing must be delivered at least five days prior to the hearing. Defendants have the right to free interpretation from the moment charged. Defendants may challenge or question witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The law states that no one may be compelled to provide self-incriminating testimony or produce self-incriminating evidence. Defendants have the right of appeal.

Courts may not impose prison sentences on juveniles who were between the ages of 12 and 14 when committing the offense, but may order placement in a juvenile correctional institute.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Suspects have the right to be informed promptly of the nature of charges against them and of the applicable legal regulations, with free interpretation as necessary. Trial proceedings are public, although a judge may minimize public attendance and may order closed hearings under certain conditions. Trials generally occurred without undue delay. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial.

The law stipulates that the investigating authority shall schedule the interrogation to enable defendants to exercise their right to a defense. A summons for a court hearing must be delivered at least five days prior to the hearing. Defendants have the right to free interpretation from the moment charged. Defendants may challenge or question witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. The law states that no one may be compelled to provide self-incriminating testimony or produce self-incriminating evidence. Defendants have the right of appeal.

Courts may not impose prison sentences on juveniles who were between the ages of 12 and 14 when committing the offense, but may order placement in a juvenile correctional institute.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

By law individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. Individuals or organizations who have exhausted domestic legal remedies regarding violations of the European Convention on Human Rights allegedly committed by the state may appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for redress.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government has laws and/or mechanisms in place, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported that based on these steps the government made some progress on the resolution of Holocaust-era claims.

Communal property restitution in the country was completed in the 1990s based on a law that allowed religious organizations to claim previously owned properties that were confiscated after January 1946. Private property restitution was still ongoing. Holocaust survivors from the country receive pension supplements. The 1947 Paris Peace Treaty regulates the restitution of heirless Jewish properties in the country. In 2007 the government pledged and subsequently distributed $21 million to assist Holocaust survivors in the country and survivors of Hungarian origin living abroad as an advance payment on an expected, subsequent agreement that would provide more comprehensive compensation. The Jewish Heritage of Hungary Public Endowment, a domestic restitution foundation composed of local Hungarian Jews, government officials, and the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), distributed one-third of the funds to survivors living in the country, while two-thirds were transferred to the Claims Conference to fund social welfare services for survivors in need living outside the country. In 2016 the government released a report on heirless property and was working with WJRO experts on a roadmap for completing the research and determining the value of unreturned heirless property in the country. During the year the government agreed in principle on a timetable to conclude this research and finalize negotiations on a settlement.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

There is no requirement for prior judicial authorization of surveillance by the TEK and sometimes by the national intelligence services in cases related to national security that involve terrorism. In such cases the justice minister may permit covert intelligence action for 90 days, with a possibility of extension. Such intelligence collection may involve secret house searches, surveillance with recording devices, opening of letters and parcels, and checking and recording electronic or computerized communications without the consent of the persons under investigation. This decision is not subject to appeal.

In 2016 the ECHR ruled that the law authorizing the surveillance of citizens by law enforcement bodies without court approval constituted a violation of the right to privacy. Prior to the ECHR’s verdict, a 2013 ruling of the Constitutional Court found it sufficient that external control over any surveillance authorized by the minister was supervised by parliament’s National Security Committee and the ombudsman. There were no changes introduced to the contested legislation during the year.

The country’s new criminal procedure code, in force since July 1, establishes a new regime for covert policing and intelligence gathering. The law gives prosecutors unrestricted access to information obtained through covert investigations.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future