Unlimited pre-trial detention is declared unconstitutional

In a judgment published this week, the Constitutional Court of Hungary ruled that the provision of the Code of Criminal Procedure that allows for unlimited pre-trial detention pending a first instance judgment is unconstitutional. The decision comes six years after the Ombudsperson asked for a constitutional review based on a request by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the Eötvös Károly Institute.

In December 2013, the Hungarian Parliament adopted an amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure, whereby the four-year time limit on the duration of pre-trial detention pending a first instance judgment was abolished for those accused of crimes punishable by a prison term of up to 15 years or life-long imprisonment. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee argued from the outset that eliminating the time limit with regard to pre-trial detention contradicts the Fundamental Law of Hungary, and raises serious concerns in light of international standards and specifically the relevant case-law of the European Court Human Rights.

In January 2014, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the Eötvös Károly Institute submitted a request to the Ombudsperson, asking him to initiate the constitutional review of the respective provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Following that request, the Ombudsperson turned to the Constitutional Court regarding the matter in March 2015, and asked the Constitutional Court to abolish the respective legal provision on grounds of unconstitutionality.

However, the Constitutional Court’s response remained pending for years. What is more, the new Code of Criminal Procedure of Hungary, which entered into force in July 2018, upheld the possibility of unlimited pre-trial detention pending a first instance judgment in the case of those accused of crimes punishable by life-long imprisonment.

In its decision published on 9 March 2021, the Constitutional Court ruled that the provision in force allowing for unlimited pre-trial detention pending a first instance judgment is indeed unconstitutional, since it violates the right to liberty. In its decision, the Constitutional Court stated that pre-trial detention should have an absolute time limit, and quashed the impugned provision as of 30 September 2021.

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Hungarian Helsinki Committee