Top Hungarian lawyer accuses PM Orban of harming rule of law

Corruption is deeply embedded in Hungary, with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán shielded by a cluster of wealthy bosses with close personal and political ties to the leader, writes Szabolcs Panyi. [Martin Divisek/EPA/EFE]

Hungary’s top defence lawyer accused Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Tuesday (21 January) of undermining the rule of law through his refusal to accept two court decisions that require payouts of state funds.

Orbán, long at odds with the European Union on a range of issues, said this month his government would disobey court orders to compensate former prisoners for inhumane treatment and would also not pay a court-mandated fine to a Roma community in eastern Hungary in a case of alleged school segregation.

However, in an apparent climbdown, a government decree on Tuesday instructed the justice minister to compensate prisoners only at “the very last minute allowed by the law”, and called for an immediate review of regulations governing such payments.

“(The government has) affected confidence in justice and especially court decisions, and I must say the rule of law,” Hungarian Bar Association Chairman János Bánáti told Reuters.

“If the state can disobey rulings, people can later decide to skip paying taxes they deem unfair, or ignore a court ruling on child custody… That’s the most dangerous aspect of this.”

“A democratic state (means) everyone accepts court decisions,” Bánáti added.

A government spokesman declined to comment on Bánáti’s criticism. Orbán’s spokesman was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.

Orbán, a nationalist, has regularly dismissed concerns over the rule of law in Hungary and says they are fabricated by his political opponents, often at the behest of Hungarian-born, U.S.-based billionaire philanthropist George Soros, whom he accuses of disrespecting Hungary’s sovereignty.

Another senior lawyer, Gyorgy Magyar, echoed Bánáti’s criticism of the government’s approach to the law.

“They want to pick which ruling to honour and which to ignore. In that case, they don’t really even need the courts, do they? They can just tell everyone what’s right and wrong,” said Magyar, an ally of Gergely Karacsony, the opposition mayor of Budapest.

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