Justice ministry undersecretary blames Soros-funded NGOs for “political attacks on judiciary”

February 12, 2018

Gov't gearing up to deal with discontent inside the judiciary by blaming Soros
Photo: Flickr/kdnp

Speaking to pro-government print daily Magyar Idők, justice ministry undersecretary Pál Völner says Hungary’s justice system needs to be free of foreign-financed self-styled rights groups. Völner connected such organizations to the Open Society Foundations’ George Soros and added that these groups are launching political attacks against the national judicial system. Völner suggests the system needs to rid itself of outside influence in order to protect Hungary’s legal traditions. The justice ministry undersecretary did not elaborate on how the government plans to achieve this.

According to Völner, per Magyar Idők:

  • Rights organizations “serving foreign interests” are endangering the independence of Hungarian courts by coercing judges into considering “outside factors.” These organizations are trying to transform Hungarian law by disconnecting it from Hungary’s legal traditions.
  • These “interveners are actually modern era mercenaries and many are connected to the American billionaire George Soros.”  He told the pro-government print daily that it is imperative their Hungarian operations be stopped.
  • “We must guarantee the independence of the courts and examine whether there are outside attempts which endanger the independence of judges,” and such work should be carried out by the judicial system itself.
  • “Recently, there have been attacks against Tünde Handó, president of the National Office of the Judiciary (OBH), the [judiciaries administrative] agency which was created in 2012.”
  • [The OBH] is being attacked from the outside, “which allows us to conclude that certain [forces] may choose to turn the courts into a political battleground.”
  • There are many different views on how to administer the judiciary. Those who disagree with the system that is currently in place are launching an attack against Hungary’s judicial system. These actors are cherry-picking cases, with the help of the press as part of a strategy to make the public believe there are big problems in the judiciary.
  • “The reality is that Hungarian courts are doing an adequate job issuing rulings. The vast majority of cases are being resolved within one year, and the justice system’s indicators show that [Hungary] is performing better than most EU countries.”
  • The government recognizes the Hungarian judiciary’s achievements. The entire infrastructure of the judiciary has been renewed and judges’ wages have been addressed to a certain extent.
  • By reducing the Soros type of influence over the courts, clients of the courts will receive better service.

Why is Völner saying this?

Hungary’s judiciary is embroiled in turmoil as the result of the massive overhaul it has undergone since 2012 under Tünde Handó, president of the National Office of the Judiciary (OBH), the agency created by Fidesz to administer and oversee the judiciary. Handó, the wife of Fidesz MEP József Szájer, and longtime friend of the Orbán family, is a political appointee, and her domineering approach to administering the judiciary has put her at odds with a number of judges.

Informed sources tell the Beacon that rather than  resolve long-standing problems, the Handó-led OBH has exacerbated the situation by subjecting the judiciary to undue influence. Handó has the power to approve judicial appointments and invalidate hiring procedures, a power that critics say she has used to surround herself with allies.

In recent years, some current and former judges have appealed to the public to raise awareness about the situation inside the judiciary. For the most part, these appeals have failed to register with the public.

Most recently, the National Judicial Council (OBT), a 15-member body that oversees the work of the OBH, held elections after the expiration of the mandates of the OBT’s previous members. The council is elected by a congress of judges. This new council has indicated that it will hold Handó to account. (One of the first acts of the council was to commit to opening of an inquiry into Handó’s invalidation of judicial hiring procedures.)

Anticipating potential battles with the new OBT, Handó recently gave an interview to a pro-government media outlet, warning them not to “exact some kind of revenge for abuses they have suffered.” Handó went on to warn of “coordinated attacks” with “fake news” being launched against the judiciary.

While it is difficult to gauge what Völner’s comments to Magyar Idők mean for the judiciary, the Soros dimension to his statements shows the government wants to pin judicial discontent on George Soros, the favorite bogeyman of Hungary’s ruling party.