27 May 2014
Today the European Court of Human Rights concluded Hungary was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights due to the premature termination of the Hungarian Supreme Court’s President’s mandate in early 2012. The judgment confirms concerns of the HHC, the HCLU and the Eötvös Károly Institute that Mr Baka’s dismissal violated the independence of the judiciary, and was a further step in weakening the rule of law in Hungary.
Mr Baka was a former judge at the European Court of Human Rights (1991-2008). In 2009, he was elected by the Parliament of Hungary as President of the Supreme Court for a six-year term, until June 2015. However, his mandate was terminated three and a half years earlier, on 1 January 2012 by the Transitional Provisions of the Fundamental Law (the new constitution of Hungary). The government argued that the dismissal was necessary because of the reorganisation of the court system, affecting the Supreme Court (resulting also in its new name “Curia”). In its decision issued today, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that the premature termination of Mr Baka’s mandate violated the right of access to a tribunal, because he could not challenge the termination of his mandate. The ECtHr also found that the dismissal “was not the result of a justified restructuring of the supreme judicial authority in Hungary, but in fact was set up on account of the views and criticisms that he had publicly expressed in his professional capacity on the legislative reforms concerned”. Therefore, his right to freedom of expression was also violated.
Already in December 2011, three prominent Hungarian human rights NGOs, the Eötvös Károly Institute (EKINT), the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) stated that the removal of András Baka was not justified, and it violated the independence of the judiciary. The NGOs turned to Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission and the Venice Commission arguing that the transformation of the Supreme Court into Curia had not resulted in such significant changes in the court’s duties that would have justified the dismissal of its President. Furthermore, the NGOs stressed that apparently Mr Baka’s mandate had been terminated and new rules to exclude him from being re-elected had been adopted in late 2011 because he publicly criticized several legislative actions of the new Fidesz-led government. These concerns were eventually confirmed by the opinion of the Venice Commission, the opinion of the Council of Europe Monitoring Committee and the European Parliament’s Tavares-report.
The ECtHR allowed the three Hungarian NGOs to intervene in the case on behalf of the applicant András Baka, who sued Hungary in 2012. In their third-party intervention the NGOs argued that the dismissal of Mr Baka was “an outstanding example of how the violations of individual fundamental rights are intertwined with the processes threatening the rule of law”, and „constitute[d] an integral part and follow[ed] the general pattern of the weakening of the system of checks and balances” that has taken place in Hungary since 2010.
The Court of Justice of the European Union concluded in April 2014 that by prematurely bringing to an end the term served by its Data Protection Commissioner, Hungary had failed to fulfill its obligations under EU law. The judgment in Baka v. Hungary passed by the ECtHR today proves again that the transformation of the constitutional system as carried out by the Hungarian government since 2010 – in the present cases, provisions of the constitution itself – are incompatible with European standards.
(The related press release of the ECtHR is available here.)