Hungarian lawmakers elected new top justices as part of a judicial overhaul that will oust Supreme Court Chief Andras Baka, in the latest move that critics say erodes checks and balances under Premier Viktor Orban.
Parliament elected Tunde Hando, a judge specialized in labor disputes and the wife of Jozsef Szajer, a ruling party member who helped rewrite the Constitution, to head the newly formed National Judicial Agency. Peter Darak, a Supreme Court judge, was elected to the newly formed Kuria, a replacement for the Supreme Court.
Since coming to power last year, Orban has curbed the power of the Constitutional Court, written a new Constitution, replaced an independent Fiscal Council with one dominated by his allies, created a media regulator led by exclusively ruling party appointees and chose a member of his party to lead the State Audit Office. Orban’s ruling party lawmakers have a two-thirds parliamentary majority.
The U.S. is “concerned” by the Hungarian government’s measures and Orban should “reconsider” them, U.S. Ambassador to Budapest Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis wrote in a Dec. 8 article in Heti Valasz.
As head of the National Judicial Agency, Hando will have the power to unilaterally select judges and court leaders.
Under the new regulations, Baka will lose his position both on the top court and as head of the predecessor of the National Judicial Agency four years before his mandate expires.
Baka has criticized the overhaul of the judicial system, saying in a Nov. 3 speech in Parliament that the changes create a concentration of power that is “unprecedented” in Europe or even during the decades of Communist rule.
Hungary needs a new judicial system as people believe the system “isn’t effective, lawsuits drag on” and voters are “dissatisfied with the quality of judicial practice,” Justice Minister Tibor Navracsics said in a June interview with monthly public service magazine Kozszolgalat.
Both Darak and Hando, whose election required a two-thirds majority in Parliament, will have a nine-year mandate.
The election of Hando is a “shame,” as she is the wife of a Fidesz-delegated member of European Parliament and a family friend of Orban’s, said opposition Socialist Party politician Gergely Barandy, according to MTI. Darak lacks the necessary professional expertise for the job, Barandy said, MTI reported.