Constitutional Court rules that OBH behavior code violates judicial independence

December 1, 2017

2016
Photo: Hungarian Constitutional Court

Hungary’s Constitutional Court has ruled that the so-called Integrity Code issued by National Judicial Authority (OBH) president Tünde Handó last year violates the constitution in several respects, reports daily online index.hu,

As previously reported, in 2016 Handó imposed by decree an Integrity Code on Hungary’s judges, even though they were already obliged to conduct themselves in accordance with an ethical codex and the law.

Touted as a tool with which to fight corruption, the code’s loosely-defined parameters enabled the OBH to pressure judges by threatening them with arbitrary disciplinary proceedings. The same decree gave the OBH president the right to investigate reported violations and to “employ legal remedies” without specifying what said remedies would entail. Handó’s decision was final and judges subject to disciplinary proceedings had no means of legal redress.

The Constitutional Court decision published Thursday morning ruled that judges are only subject to laws passed with a two-thirds parliamentary majority, and Handó had no right to impose the Behavioral Code by decree.  The court further ruled that the OBH president had no right to initiate disciplinary proceedings against judges alleged to have violated the Behavioral Code. The court ruled that the Code violated the judges’ independence guaranteed by the constitution.  It also found unconstitutional the lack of legal remedy.

“The examined provisions, such as, for example, the determination of an integrity violation or initiating a disciplinary procedure for violating the obligation, moreover the employment of legal means – all of this violates the right to legal remedy and the independence of the judiciary,” writes the court in the decision.

Buda Center District Court judge Péter Szepesházi is one of several judges to petition the Constitutional Court as well as the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. According to Szepesházi “a legal institution cannot be democratic and a branch of power (the judiciary) cannot be independent whose members have to be afraid of the value system of the current OBH president and the principles emphasized by the individual in question.”