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Reform of the Judiciary sparks debate

December 1st, 2011

A left-wing commentator believes the government wants to bring the judiciary under its own control, while a right-wing columnist thinks the reform will finally put an end to the left-wing domination of the courts.

The Chief Justice has to go…. András Baka’s main sin is that he is not a Fidesz man,” – deputy editor János Dési writes in Népszava.

Under the recently enacted reform of the judiciary, Parliament will elect the new president of the Supreme Court and the head of the Judicial Office  before the end of the year. Both institutions have been led so far by one and the same person. He has also been chairman of the National Council of the Judiciary, originally a self-governing body elected by judges. When András Baka was elected Chief Justice, he was given major powers by parliament in order to increase the efficiency of the judiciary. These powers will now be exercised by the president of the new Judicial Office. Both the opposition and outgoing Chief Justice András Baka contend that a civil servant should not be given such a broad competence over the judiciary.

Mr Baka could be re-elected, but according to a new rule the chief judge must have served at least 5 years in Hungarian courts, while he served 17 at the European Court of Human Rights. Dési notes that Mr Baka was elected two years ago with the strong support of Fidesz, then in opposition, “but they cannot forgive him now, for not toeing the party line.” The left-wing commentator believes that the government intends to tame the courts, but the judges “will be smarter and more honest than that.”

In Magyar Hírlap, Ferenc Sinkovics contends that Mr Baka is defending a left-wing bias within the judiciary. He doesn’t see any big difference between the current system and the new one, since in both cases the people heading the judicial system are elected by Parliament. The details have been modelled on a scheme submitted to the government by the National Association of Judges. The pro-government columnist also dismisses the argument brought against the reform by left-wing analysts, who argue that Parliament should rather tackle the poverty issue first. Sinkovits replies that had the judiciary been more efficient in the past, poverty would not be such a grave problem now.

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