On Monday, the National Assembly approved the appointment of Zsolt András Varga as the new president of the Kúria, Hungary’s supreme court.
Varga was elected by the governing parties with 135 votes in favor and 26 against in a secret ballot. As a protest to his appointment, opposition parties were absent from the parliamentary vote.
President János Áder nominated Varga to succeed Péter Darák as the head of the top court on Oct. 5th. Varga, who took his oath of office after the vote, will assume his post on January 2, 2021.
FactVarga graduated from the Faculty of Law at Budapest’s Eötvös Loránd University in 1995 before going on to obtain a PhD degree there. He was habilitated at the Pázmány Péter Catholic University. Varga has worked as a university professor since 2012, and has worked at several prosecutor’s offices in Budapest before joining the Parliamentary Commissioner’s Office. He later became a member of the Venice Commission and served as a constitutional judge from 2014 until his nomination as the head of the Kúria. Between 2017 and 2019 he was vice-chair of the Venice Commission’s subcommittee for international law, and later the subcommittee for constitutional law. Varga is also a member of the public body of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
Under Hungary’s constitution, the president of the Kúria is elected for a nine-year term by a two-thirds majority of lawmakers.
The Fidesz majority of the Parliament’s Justice Committee found Varga suitable for the position (with 9 for and 2 against), and Secretary of State Balázs Orbán called him one of the most talented jurists.
However, Varga’s nomination caused great controversy among Hungary’s judiciary. After hearing him a few weeks ago, the National Council of the Judiciary (OBT) rejected his nomination with 13 votes against and 1 in favor.
In a statement, the OBT justified the decision with Varga’s lack of experience as a judge, and because he had “no practical experience in legal procedures and judiciary administration,” unseen in candidates in the thirty years since the fall of communism.
The OBT also noted that “two recent amendments to the relevant laws” that enabled Varga’s nomination, are in violation of the constitutional principle that top judiciary officials should be independent and impartial.
Opposition parties have also slammed the governing parties and János Áder, because in their view, he nominated somebody without any experience as a judge who is furthermore likely to be a simple servant of the governing parties.
DK lawmaker László Sebian-Petrovszki said at an online press conference that Varga had “never been a judge and hasn’t passed a single sentence.” He also noted that Varga had been the chief public prosecutor’s deputy for nearly ten years and in this capacity he had “assisted in scandalous cases” during the Fidesz governments.
In a statement, LMP group leader Lóránt László Keresztes also cited Varga’s lack of experience. He noted that the National Judiciary Council had also rejected endorsement of his nomination.
In a press conference, Koloman Brenner, Deputy House Speaker for the conservative opposition Jobbik party, called the nomination a “disgrace,” adding that Varga had been “the right hand” of Chief Public Prosecutor Péter Polt and had so far worked in a “dictatorial system based on following orders.” He also called the nomination “another level of undermining the judiciary, thereby dismantling Hungarian democracy.”
Speaking to state news agency MTI after the vote, Varga said he viewed his nomination and election to head the supreme court as an expression of trust in him by Hungary.
He vowed to do his best to live up to the trust placed in him as a member of the community of the Kúria’s judges.
Varga said he would spend the next two and a half months getting to know the opinions of the court’s judges on the future of the institution while sharing his own views.
Featured photo by Tibor Illyés/MTI