July 10, 2019 / 11:10 AM / 8 days ago

Hungary could resurrect court plan that worried EU: parliament speaker

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary could resurrect plans to create a new administrative court system, a senior member of the ruling party said, a month after it unexpectedly suspended the scheme that had raised concerns about judicial independence.

Hungarian Parliament Speaker Laszlo Kover take part in ceremony of unveiling the bust of Marshal Jozef Pilsudski on the occasion of 100 years of Poland's independence in Budapest, Hungary, September 26, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

Parliament Speaker Laszlo Kover, an ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, said Budapest had only dropped the plans because it had come under “irrational pressure”. He told Inforadio late on Tuesday: “If the time is ripe we may return to the idea.”

Changes to Hungary’s judiciary proposed by the nationalist ruling Fidesz party have been at the heart of a confrontation with the European Union, which says some of Orban’s reforms threaten democracy and the rule of law.

The administrative scheme involved setting up courts overseen directly by the justice minister, a move critics said could allow political interference in judicial matters.

Last month’s decision to suspend the plan “was not related to the quality of the legislation but to the entirely irrational pressure and series of attacks that Hungary had been exposed to concerning reforms of the judiciary for a long time,” Kover said.

“We decided that politically this conflict was not worth it, even though the operation of the judiciary would actually improve,” he added.

The government could return to the idea “but we are not planning to do that within the coming year,” he added.

Hungary’s ally Poland has also faced EU pressure to reverse judicial changes that critics say threaten the rule of law. Warsaw has already rolled back a law that forced Supreme Court judges into early retirement and other reforms following a ruling by the European Court of Justice.

Hungary’s administrative courts had been due to take over cases about government business such as taxation and elections currently handled in the main legal system.

Fidesz was suspended from the mainstream European People’s Party (EPP) in March over Orban’s record on respect for the rule of law, freedom of the press and minorities’ rights. The EPP is expected to decide about Fidesz’ future in the grouping later this year.

Fidesz won European parliamentary elections in Hungary in May on a hardline anti-immigration platform.

Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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