24 March 2017
Currently, it is difficult for the perpetrator and the victim in petty offence procedures to conclude a settlement, even though settling would often be better for both of them. The HHC turned to the Ombudsperson regarding the issue, who agreed with the HHC and asked the Ministry of Interior to amend the rules.
Similarly to criminal procedures, in Hungary it is also possible in the course of petty offence procedures for the perpetrator and the victim to conclude a settlement personally, before the authorities or the court, about the perpetrator providing reparation for the damages caused by the petty offence committed. For example, in the case of shoplifting the perpetrator may undertake to tidy up the shop’s surroundings, and if that is accepted by the owner of the shop as reparation, then the case will be closed. Such settlements, reached in the framework of the so-called mediation procedure, often prove to be better in the long run than imposing punishments. Firstly, the victim is compensated for the damages suffered, unlike in the case when the perpetrator is simply punished. Secondly, primarily in villages and smaller communities, where everyone knows about everything, it may be easier for the perpetrator to reintegrate into the community if he/she provides a reparation for the damages caused by the petty offence committed by him/her. Mediation is often also better for the state, because it is cheaper than detaining somebody in prison (i.e. in petty offence confinement) for weeks.
However, the rules of the respective law are bureaucratic and strict, and it is often extremely hard to organize the reparation. According to the law, there are only 30 days to conclude the settlement and carry out what is included in it. Communication in the mediation procedure shall happen via post, and experts say that due to the time spent with serving the letters and the various related deadlines it often happens that as much as 10 days are spent with formalities. It also occurs many times that it is difficult for the perpetrator or the victim to travel, that one of them is temporarily abroad, or has other commitments due to which he/she is not available instantly. According to the law, the 30-day deadline may not be extended in such cases either, only the perpetrator’s financial situation allows for a longer deadline. Thus, it is easy to miss the deadline even if both parties want to conclude a settlement.
Another problem arises when somebody is taken before the court in a special, expedited procedure, since in these cases the perpetrator is generally not able to participate in a mediation procedure even if both him/her and the victim would agree to that. The practice is not unified in this regard, and the approach of authorities varies as to whether they allow the parties to participate in a mediation procedure or not.
The Ombudsperson agreed with the conclusions of the HHC’s submission, dated October 2016, covering the issues above, and turned to the Ministry of Interior and the government office (the Justice Office) supervising mediators. The Justice Office agreed with the concerns raised and supported the conclusion that short deadlines often cause a problem. At the same time, the Ministry of Interior was of the opinion that extending the deadlines is not justified, because in the case of petty offences it is the society’s expectation to solve these issues rapidly.
However, taking into consideration all aspects, the Ombudsperson came to the conclusion that all in all, longer deadlines would serve the interests of the community better, and, therefore, in March 2017, asked the Ministry of Interior to deal with the issue and, if necessary, to initiate the amendment of the law in a way which would make it easier to extend the 30-day deadline currently applicable to mediation procedures. As far as the special procedure for taking someone before the court in an expedited manner is concerned, the Ombudsperson asked the Ministry of Interior to examine the practice and to ensure that rules are applied in a unified manner everywhere.