As reported in the press release of last Friday of the National Office for the Judiciary (NOJ) several court procedures were reassigned to other courts by Tünde Handó, president of the National Office for the Judiciary. In this press release Transparency International Hungary expresses its concerns regarding the procedure and calls attention to the fact that right to fair trial, to which everyone is entitled to, is violated by the separation from their lawful judges. Impartial judgement cannot be rendered without a fair procedure. Arbitrary reassignment of concrete cases or the air of arbitrariness undermines the independence of the judiciary and the public trust in judicial decisions, thus it cannot serve the fight against corruption.
In nine procedures, including one of the most important criminal procedures of the recent years on corruption related offences, has the president of the NOJ decided to reassign cases to other courts at the end of last week. The right to lawful judge is a principal requirement of due processes. As the Constitutional Court declared twenty years ago the lack of any procedural safeguard has the effect that the procedure is not fair and subject to rule of law anymore.
By separating parties from lawful judges the Hungarian judiciary deprives them from the safeguards that provide for an impartial forum, assigned by objective rules, that renders its decisions based solely on legal criteria. Since the democratic transition all defendants were entitled to such safeguards, regardless the offence for which charges were raised. Furthermore citizens of Hungary will be deprived of ever getting assurance beyond any reasonable doubt that whether and which offences the defendants committed.
Transparency International Hungary warned on several occasions that guarantees of rule of law were seriously violated during the latest reforms of the judicial system. The organisation drew attention to the fact that as the new regulation authorises the president of NOJ to depart from the lawful order of case assignments in individual cases and designate another court for the procedure, it will result in decrease in objectiveness of rendering judgements and increase of corruption risks.
With the actual reassignments the former theoretical possibility has become reality. The often cited overload of courts is a real problem, but it can be countered only by an automated assignment system based on objective criteria, as reassignment opens up the judiciary to abuses of power.
Corruption has to sanctioned definitively and offenders have to be punished, but corruption cannot be fought by weakening safeguards of rule of law, because it destroys exactly those values that should be protected by judicial authorities.