31 January 2020
In January, the Government unexpectedly announced that it intends to amend the system of compensations awarded to inmates for poor detention conditions. This may violate Hungary’s international obligations and points to the inadequacy of domestic policy, while the Government’s hostile rhetoric targeting detainees and their attorneys is unacceptable.
In 2015, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in a pilot judgment against Hungary that prison overcrowding was a structural problem in the country. As a result, Hungary introduced a complaint and compensation remedy system for inmates detained under inhuman and degrading conditions.
In January 2020, the Prime Minister and other government officials announced that they will “suspend” the compensation payments under this scheme, and that the Government will “immediately” review the respective domestic laws. The statements also alleged that some NGOs and attorneys built a “prison business” around compensation payments. Finally, the Government issued a resolution “on the immediate action against abusing the compensation procedures launched due to prison overcrowding”. This did not “suspend” compensation payments as such, but pushed payments to the latest date legally possible, and maintained that the legal framework has to be reviewed.
The wording of the resolution and of the Government’s statements clearly foreshadows the envisaged direction of future amendments to the remedy system, i.e. the cutting back (or even the complete elimination) of the domestic system of remedies to be provided to detainees for substandard prison conditions. This would be in contradiction with the pilot judgment and the decisions of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which has been supervising the execution of the pilot judgment since 2015.
Furthermore, the issue points to the inadequacy of domestic policy. The compensation system should have been a temporary solution, applied until prison conditions in the country reach a satisfactory level. However, even though prison conditions undeniable improved, overcrowding and inadequate detention conditions remain a problem in Hungary. Reasons for that include that the Government has not made sufficient use of alternative, non-custodial sanctions, has not reviewed criminal policy, and has not built any of the new prisons promised. Instead of “suspending” compensations, the Government should focus its efforts to tackle these issues.
Finally, it is worrying that the wording of the statements and the resolution is capable of creating a hostile environment towards detainees. Moreover, they not only tie into the ongoing hate campaign against human rights NGOs, but also attack attorneys simply for using Hungarian law.
—> The HHC’s related information note is available here: “Compensations for inadequate detention conditions threatened by the Hungarian Government“
On 28 January, the Director of Human Rights of the Council of Europe addressed a letter to the Minister of Justice of Hungary with respect to the matter, founding it crucial to maintain preventive and compensatory remedies at national level. The Minister of Justice was invited to keep the Council of Europe informed about any relevant developments and was informed of the readiness of the Department for the Execution of Judgments of the European Court to assist the authorities in the envisaged review procedure.