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Hungary drops controversial judicial reform

Budapest, Hungary – Hungary has dropped its controversial administrative courts judicial reform, Justice Minister Judit Varga told the state news agency MTI last week.

“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 system”, she told MTI.

The government had already announced in May it was suspending its plans to create a separate administrative court system by 2020.

A move analysts believe was meant to reinstate PM Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party’s membership within the European People’s Party (EPP), from which it had been suspended, or to pave the way for former Justice Minister Laszlo Trocsanyi’s bid for EU Commissioner – which was rejected by the European Parliament in September.

Under the planned judicial reform, Hungary would have created a separate administrative court system, for all cases involving state and public institutions,  which would have been under the direct supervision of the Justice Minister.

The overhaul had raise some eyebrows among NGO’s and activists, who feared it would further undermine the independence of Hungary’s judicial system. The European Commission also expressed concerns regarding the overhaul, saying the separate system would significantly undermine the rule of law and politicize sensitive administrative cases.

Justice Minister Judit Varga said that although the new bill drafted by the government will keep the system unified, it will provide a “clear framework” to speed up administrative cases.

The bill is expected to be submitted to Parliament in the coming weeks.

Anna Julia Donath, a Hungarian MEP for the Momentum movement, however urged caution on Twitter: “We need to remain attentive of Judit Varga’s promise to ‘abandon’ this reform definitely. We take judicial independence seriously and we will turn to the European Commission to expose any move by Fidesz to pursue judicial control and to undermine democracy in Hungary”.

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