Hungary abandons plan for administrative courts, justice minister says

FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga speaks during an interview with Reuters in Budapest, Hungary, July 23, 2019. REUTERS/Krisztina Than

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary’s government has abandoned plans to set up separate administrative courts, but it will pass legislation to speed up administrative court cases, Justice Minister Judit Varga told state news agency MTI late on Thursday.

In May, the government unexpectedly announced it was suspending the idea of a new administrative court system, backtracking on a reform that had raised concerns over judicial independence.

Changes to Hungary’s judiciary proposed by Fidesz, Hungary’s ruling party, have caused conflict with the European Commission, which says some of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s reforms threaten democracy and the rule of law. Orban rejects allegations that his government has eroded checks and balances.

“The government believes that the court should be protected from unnecessary disputes and therefore would maintain a unified court system and would not establish an independent administrative court organization,” Varga told MTI.

She said the bill now drafted by the government would provide a “clear framework” for administrative litigation, speed up the closure of appeals, and “make legal practice more predictable.” The bill will be submitted to parliament soon.

Hungary passed a law last year to set up the separate administrative courts, which would handle cases involving the state, such as election or tax disputes. The courts would have been overseen directly by the justice minister.

Critics said that could allow political interference in judicial matters. Hungary later modified the reform after it was criticized by the Venice Commission, a European panel of constitutional law experts.

Reporting by Krisztina Than, editing by Larry King