Hungary says to set up new administrative high court despite criticism

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary’s government plans to set up a new high court to deal with issues relating to public administration, the justice minister said on Monday, despite opposition concerns that it could increase political influence over judges.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing government, re-elected with a big majority last month, had originally tried to establish the new court in 2016 but it was blocked by the Constitutional Court.

Justice Minister Laszlo Trocsanyi dismissed concerns that the government would pack the new court with judges loyal to Orban’s government.

“For me the independence of judges is a fixed star of democracy,” he told a hearing in parliament’s justice committee.

“I think the time has come to complete the job (of creating the new high court),” he said, adding that his ministry would draft a proposal that would reassure opposition parties.

Following last month’s election, Orban’s ruling Fidesz party now has the two-thirds parliamentary majority it needs to set up the new court.

Hungary and nearby Poland are both under close scrutiny by the European Union over the rule of law.

Orban, who won his third consecutive four-year term in the April election on an anti-immigration platform, has clashed with the EU in recent years over various issues, including curbs on media freedom and sending judges into early retirement.

Trocsanyi said a public administration court was part of the legal system in several EU countries, including the Czech Republic, Austria and Germany, where they worked well, adding there was no reason why it could not also do so in Hungary.

“Courts are entirely independent of the Justice Ministry,” Trocsanyi said later, in reply to a lawmaker’s question.

Reporting by Krisztina Than, Editing by Gareth Jones