Hungary amends judicial law after EU criticism
(BUDAPEST) - Hungary's parliament has adopted amendments to its law on the judiciary that will limit the authority of a new body, which European officials had said was excessive.
The government established earlier this year a new National Judicial Office (NJO), headed by a close family friend of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Tunde Hando, much to the dismay of rights groups and opposition parties.
The Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, slammed the move for handing sweeping powers to the head of the new body in a March report, and the European Commission threatened legal action if Hungary did not amend this law, among several others.
Under the amendments adopted late Monday, certain privileges awarded to the NJO's president will be handed over to the National Council of Judges, such as the authority to order fast-track extraordinary procedures in certain cases "of public interest."
The NJO will not be able to transfer cases to another court, or propose amendments to the law governing the judicial system without prior consultations and approval from the council of judges.
Hando will also have to consult the judges over the judicial system's annual budget.
Finally, she will have to leave office after the end of her nine-year mandate. Under the previous measures, she could have stayed on if no one received a two-thirds majority vote in parliament.
One article the government left unchanged, however, calls for an immediate drop in the retirement age of judges to 62 from 70, a measure that Brussels had strongly condemned.
Critics see it is as a bid by the government to get rid of cumbersome judges and replace them with close allies of the ruling Fidesz party.
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