Speaking about the history of courts in Hungary I would like to note that based on the Act20 of 1949 on the Hungarian constitution, and on the ActLXVI of 1997 on the Organization and administration of Hungarian courts, the Hungarian justice and court system is represented by a 4-level system which comprises the Supreme court, the regional courts of appeal, the county courts and the local courts. The first instance jurisdiction rests with the local courts effecting the principle that the majority of all different cases gets settled with the local level courts. Appeals against the court decisions settled at the local level are brought to the county courts which function as appellate courts, yet in some cases involving large sums (over $30,000 in severance fees) and criminal cases that might involve a life-long imprisonment, the county courts act as the institutions of first instance jurisdiction. The territorial competence of different courts is determined by the public administration. For instance, regional Hungarian courts of appeal hear the appeals against the decisions made b the local and county courts. There exist only 5 courts of appeal located in Budapest, Pecs, Szeged, Debrecen and Gyor, yet they serve the needs of all citizens around the country. Since these 5 courts examine appeals logged against the decisions made at the local and county level they reduce the workload for the Supreme Court, so that this highest judicial institution in Hungary can concentrate on the proper application of law throughout the land and assure that the Judicial system of Hungary remains fair and properly integrated in the EU judicial system.
To assure the independence of courts, one separated the courts from the executive, and the legislative branches of government.
The court system is administered by the National Council of Justice which comprises the following functions:
- Appoint and dismiss the presidents and vice-presidents of regional courts of appeal and the county courts (Apponyi, 2004).
- Oversee the administrative activity of courts throughout the system with the exception of President of the Supreme Court of Hungary.
- Make recommendations to the President of Hungary regarding the nomination and relief of Judges.
- Express the primary qualified opinion on the President’s decision to appoint certain people are judges.
- Prepare the budget of courts of different levels and report the financing to the government.
- Lay forward the principles of organization and operations of Hungarian courts of all levels (Bence, 2004).
- Provide the education and training to judges at all levels in Hungary.
This national council of justice comprises 15 members: 9 judges being elected through delegates, the Minister of Justice, the Prosecutor General, the President of the National Bar Association and Two MPs who get appointed routinely by the Constitutional and Judicial committee and the Budget and financial committee of Hungary. The council cooperates closely with the President of the Supreme court of Hungary who submits annually reports to the Parliament about the overall effectiveness of the judicial system of Hungary and the activities of the National Council of Justice (Shea, 2003).
The judges in Hungary are appointed and dismissed by the President of Hungary. The recruitment to the Hungarian courts is rather competitive. The candidates have to be Hungarian nationals with a right to vote and without any criminal record. They need to possess a university degree and will pass a professional exam prior to occupy the post. University graduates in law typically work for 3 years as trainees or interns in the courts and then another year or two as court secretaries. After spending 4-5 years in total in the court, one is qualified to pass the professional exam and undergoes a medical and criminal check. Then, upon receiving a recommendation from the president of the county court and after receiving the proposal by the national council of justice, the president of Hungary appoints that person for a 3-year probationary period as a judge. After the probationary period, the judge will be either re-appointed for an indefinite period or will be dismissed. The judge can work until the age of 70 years (Fallon, 2004).
The Hungarian constitution states that the Hungarian judges are independent are subjects to law only. The judges cannot pursue any other career in politics or business and can work only as professors in universities. They cannot work as judges in several different courts at the same time.
Since 2001, Hungarian judges are required to make disclosure declarations on their property which gets monitored by the national council of justice. The judges undergo training and pass exams every 3 years to assure their high level of competence and proficiency (Walzer, 2003).
The constitutional court (Supreme court) of Hungary is not a part of the regular judicial system, and therefore it has its own budget and eleven judges who get elected by the parliament of Hungary. The constitutional court reviews constitutionality of laws and regulations and protects the constitutional order in the country and assures the citizens fundamental rights granted by the Hungarian constitution. This court review the laws post-factum and engages in preventive reviews of laws and statutes. The decisions of the Supreme Court cannot be contested (Fazakas 2003).
Crime level in Hungary is still rather high compared to the crime level in the USA, or western Europe simply because Hungary is still a rather young country, a new and poor EU member.
The crimes in Hungary are represented by the following most common crimes:
- Theft of Credit card and bank cards. The criminals either steal the credit cards via conventional ways (pick pocketing) or by setting up fake card readers in crowded places where besides obtaining money from a regular ATM, the customer’s card details are read by the special card reader (Molnar 2002).
- Pick pocketing is common in all cases where there are crowds: public transportation, crowded buses, and undergrounds.
- Windscreen-cleaners. These are volunteer helpers who approach your car at the traffic light crossing or in a jam, blur the window for a few seconds and then demand money. If you refuse to pay, they might scratch the car or break the window and might even hit the driver (Adams, 2004).
- Property Theft is another prevailing crime in Hungary which is present in large cities. Car theft, mobile phone theft, laptop computers theft are the crimes that affect most people (Gross, 2004).
- False police officers is another crime during which criminals dress as police officers, then approach people on the streets, engage in searches and either steal the money or property for investigation purposes or demand the cash explicitly.
The police in Hungary is improving routinely as Hungary entered the EU and brought the standards to the European level. Still the salaries of Hungarian police officers remain rather low (approximately $1000 per month depending on the rank and the areas that a police officer covers). With such low salaries, police officers might get tempted to accept and demand a bribe from the regular people and from some criminals. The most corrupt officers in police represent the road police, who oftentimes get tempted to receive a bribe from traffic violators (Walzer, 2003). Instead of punishing the criminals and drunk drivers with fines or instead of brining them to court, these police officers get tempted to receive bribes instead. The Hungarian police in the recent years in major large cities would undertake various raids where undercover police officers would drive badly and offer bribes to their counterparts. Those who accept bribes would be fires or brought to court. Still, in smaller towns and areas, bribery and corruption is still prevalent. One needs to remember that corruption applies not only to road police; criminal police and customs office police also engage in corrupt behavior. It appears that training and increased salaries is the ultimate answer to corruption in police.
In conclusion I would like to note that Hungary is a well-developed eastern European nation and a European union member which attracts over 30% of all investments directed for eastern Europe. The judicial system in Hungary had been designed in a manner to discourage corruption and bias, while at the same time fostering justice and independence. The country still has some problems with the corruption in police yet increased public awareness trainings, growing salaries and stringent punishment for bad cops assures that in the long run, corruption will cease to exist in Hungary.
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