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The Comeback of Administrative Courts in Hungary

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By Tamás Leskó, Hungarian jurist.

Hungary – On the day when the act on the increase of the number of legal overtime hours was adopted, another significant legal act was adopted by the Hungarian parliament, namely the one on the new Administrative Courts. The act has now been published in the Hungarian Gazette1 yet, it implies controversial opinions among the public. This is one of the reforms that denounce the organisers of the recent series of demonstrations.

Administrative Courts usually decide legal disputes in which at least one of the parties is either the State in its role as an authority and not as an operator in business when the State is also bound by civil-law relationships, either one of its bodies, organs or authorities with own legal personality to which the State has delegated specific tasks to manage, such as government departments, the National Tax and Customs Administration, the Hungarian Competition Authority, the Hungarian Energy and Public Utility Regulatory Authority, the National Media and Infocommunications Authority, etc.

Nowadays the legal disputes of State authorities and clients (individuals or legal persons) are decided by Administrative and Labour Courts (in Hungarian: Közigazgatási és Munkaügyi Bíróság) on the first instance, which are located in seven cities (Budapest, Debrecen, Győr, Miskolc, Pécs, Szeged, Veszprém) in Hungary and completely integrated in the current judicial system. These decisions may be challenged at a second instance court (the court having competence depends on the matter), the decision of which shall be final and binding.

However, the new Administrative Courts will keep their present locations, the jurisdiction itself will be outsourced of the existing judicial hierarchy with an own Administrative Supreme Court (in Hungarian: Közigazgatási Felsőbíróság), which will not even have its seat in Budapest, but in Esztergom. Since 2018, there has been a separate procedural code on administrative lawsuits. Before that, almost the same rules applied on civil and administrative procedures. The most meaningful critics against the new administrative court system, which will start to operate from 2020, is that the judges thereof will be interviewed, appointed and supervised by the Hungarian Minister for Justice, who has been Mr. László Trócsányi since 2014, a former ambassador of Hungary to Belgium (2000-2004) and France (2010-2014), and former member of the Constitutional Court (2007-2010), also being an owner of Nagy & Trócsányi Law Firm. (His ownership has been officially suspended for the time of having public positions.) According to Mr. Trócsányi, there is no reason of any fear from professional abuses, as there are many guarantees integrated in the act to prevent them. These guarantees supposed to be, for example, that recruitment interviews will be public and professional requirements will be higher against prospective administrative judges than those against ordinary judges. Even if Mr. Trócsányi keeps his word not to influence the work of Administrative Courts, he may not remain a Minister for Justice forever, of course. Moreover, the list of candidate MEPs of the governing Fidesz-KDNP party alliance starts with his name.

Separated administrative jurisdiction has its own traditions in the Hungarian legal system. Autonomous administrative jurisdiction used to function in Hungary from 1896 (regarding financial matters from 1883) until 1949, when, under communism, their operation was ceased as they were considered needless. (There was no sense of any legal dispute against any authority in the era of communism.)

As it is reflected in the preamble of the act, the government’s objective by re-establishing Administrative Courts is not only to modernize jurisdiction and improve efficiency thereof, but also to get a bit closer to the judicial system existed before the denounced communist regime by a symbolic political step.

1 An official gazette in Hungary to publish legal regulations.