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EU Court: Proceeding of Hungary’s Supreme Court Unlawful

Péter Cseresnyés 2021.11.24.

Both Chief Prosecutor Péter Polt and Hungary’s Supreme Court acted contrary to EU law, according to a judgment by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) handed down on Tuesday, news site Telex reports.

The right of European Union member states to turn to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) stands above the laws of member states, and so the courts are within their rights to ignore all decisions prohibiting them to seek guidance from the CJEU, the European court ruled on Tuesday.

The decision concludes a 2015 case of a Swedish citizen who was charged with misusing firearms and ammunition in Hungary. During the proceedings, the defendant’s attorney made a complaint about the interpreter’s Swedish-Hungarian language interpretation, arguing the trial was not fair as proper interpretation was not provided. Under EU law, there should be a register of independent translators and interpreters. But there is no such register in Hungary, so the case opened the question of whether the Hungarian and EU legal systems are compatible in this regard.

The judge, Csaba Vasvári, therefore suspended the proceedings and submitted the complaint to the EU top court alongside questions of his own about the independence of Hungary’s judiciary. The case then immediately became a highly political affair.

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Vasvári asked whether Tünde Handó – (then) president of the National Judicial Office, wife of former Fidesz MEP József Szájer, and has since been elected a member of Hungary’s constitutional court- should be allowed to appoint judges without the required experience, and whether the low pay of Hungarian judges (which can be increased with bonus payments at the discretion of the judicial office president) could make them receptive to political interference.

Chief Prosecutor Péter Polt then challenged the suspension of the Swedish defendant’s case in Hungary’s Supreme Court, the Kúria. Polt argued that Judge Vasvári did not have the legal right to refer the case to the EU top court.

Subsequently, the Kúria ruled that Vasvári’s submission to the CJEU was unlawful and threatened him with disciplinary proceedings, but which were never launched.

Regarding the issue, the Advocate-General of the European Court of Justice, Priit Pikamäe, said in April that rules allowing the Hungarian Supreme Court to prevent a lower court from asking the CJEU questions are incompatible with EU law.

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The EU Top Court reached the same conclusion in its Tuesday ruling.

The CJEU said that under the Treaty of the European Union, it was unlawful for national supreme courts to declare “that a request for a preliminary ruling submitted by a lower court is unlawful … on the grounds that the questions referred to are not relevant and necessary for the resolution of the dispute in the main proceedings,” as that decision is the responsibility of the CJEU alone.

“In such circumstances, the principle of the primacy of EU law requires the lower court to disregard the decision of the supreme court of the Member State concerned,” according to the ruling. The CJEU also declared the disciplinary procedure against judge Vasvári to be unlawful.

In the ruling, it was also stated that “Such proceedings are liable to deter all national courts from making references for a preliminary ruling, which could jeopardize the uniform application of EU law.”

Featured photo illustration via Pixabay