Capturing independent courts – both the Constitutional Court and the ordinary court system – has been in progress for over ten years and has nearly come to full completion in Hungary. One weak, but independent judicial self–governing body is still left standing: the National Judicial Council (NJC). The strive for a power grip on the judiciary came to a turning point in 2018, shortly after the Kúria (the supreme court of Hungary) delivered a judgment that deprived the third–time–in–a–row winning Fidesz party of one mandate in the 2018 parliamentary elections. As the legislative steps taken after 2018 reveal, at this point, the governing majority recognised that capturing the entire judiciary comprising 3000 independent judges is just too big a bite. Rather than to further strive to take control of the judiciary as a whole, the court capture project was strictly narrowed down to one single judicial body constituting the final instance of adjudication and comprising less than 100 judges: the Kúria. After this strategic decision, the Hungarian government quickly and successfully developed its own recipe for gaining political control over the judiciary. The court capture project launched after the 2018 elections was completed by 2021, ensuring that by the 2022 parliamentary elections, all politically sensitive cases end up at a loyal court instance. For unexpected cases of system failure, the Hungarian government also took care to build in extra safety features guaranteeing a government–aligned outcome for all politically relevant cases. By the fall of 2022, only one open question remains: the fate of the last independent body, the NJC.
Our new paper, providing a summary of the most important legislative and court administration steps taken after 2018 that aimed to create an apex court in Hungary that is characterised by a highly increased likelihood of adjudicating politically sensitive cases in a manner favourable for the government, is available here.
For a list of potential milestones, aimed at restoring the independence of the judiciary and the effective constitutional review of laws, see:
Potential milestones aimed at restoring the rule of law in Hungary