European court rules against Hungary in tobacco retailing case

November 5, 2015



A second concession store owner stripped of her right to sell tobacco products has been awarded EUR 20,000 by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, reports The court ruled against the Hungarian government in connection with a controversial law which made tobacco retailing a government monopoly, giving Hungarian authorities the right to issue tobacco concessions while simultaneously stripping licensed vendors of their right to sell tobacco products.

According to the court’s ruling, the Hungarian state violated the plaintiff’s private property when it stripped the vendor of her permit to engage in the sale of tobacco products in 2013.  In addition to the EUR 20,000 in damages, the government must reimburse the plaintiff’s legal costs of EUR 3,800.  This is the second such case brought before the European Court of Human Rights, which also ruled in favor of the first plaintiff.

The court took issue with the process to distribute the tobacco concessions and found that the vendors who were stripped of their permits were not afforded any legal remedy.

Hungary’s Constitutional Court last year rejected a case involving 14 former concession store owners who claimed that the government’s controversial 2013 law stripped them of their property rights and freedom to engage in business. The plaintiffs claimed the law violated Hungary’s own Basic Law and international agreements. The Constitutional Court disagreed.

The decision by the European Court of Human Rights, therefore, proves (again) that the law itself and the Constitutional Court’s interpretation of the law aren’t in accordance with European law.

Gábor Magyar, representing former concession store owners, says the Constitutional Court, most of whose members have been appointed by the Fidesz-KDNP-controlled parliament over the past five years, is incapable of protecting fundamental rights.

With two European Court decisions in favor of concession store owners who lost their right to sell tobacco products, Magyar recommends the government settle with his clients before going to court, because at least that way the government will be able to save money on court fees in Strasbourg.