Independence of judiciary under threat, says Venice Commission
By Gaspard Sebag | Tuesday 20 March 2012
The Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters, considers that the independence of the judiciary in Hungary is under threat. Budapest claims to have proposed “significant changes” to address this issue.
The opinion, adopted by the Venice Commission at its plenary session, on 17-18 March, sees “some positive provisions” and recognises the “need to improve the efficiency of the previous system” but also highlights “numerous elements which are problematic”.
The main problem identified is the concentration of powers in the hands of the president of the National Judicial Office (NJO). “In no other member state of the Council of Europe are such important powers, including the power to select judges and senior office holders, vested in a single person,” reads the text. The president is seen to have “wide discretionary powers mainly not subject to judicial control”. The way the president is elected without consultation of the members of the judiciary, her long term in office (nine years) and her alleged lack of accountability to anybody except in cases of violation of the law add to these worries. In an administrative letter sent to Hungary on the same topic, the European Commission expressed similar concerns. The EU executive highlights nonetheless that it has its own working method and will focus on a legal assessment.
Reacting to the Venice Commission’s comments, the Hungarian government announced that some tasks of the NJO president will be transferred to the National Judiciary Council (NJC), which is to be given the right of consent in the fields, amongst others, of evaluating job applications and appointing court executives. The Venice Commission has not had time to assess the changes and form a new opinion yet. n