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Judges protest against being retired

According to Hungary’s new Constitution, the retirement age of judges would be the same as the regular retirement age, meaning a reduction from the current 70 to 62 years – a move that has set off protests across the judiciary.

In an immediate reaction to the proposal, presented prior to the final vote on the Constitution, the presidents of Hungary’s Supreme Court, five appeals courts, the Municipal Court, 19 other courts and the Hungarian judges’ society expressed deep concern over the Fidesz government’s plan.

In a statement, judges called the proposal “irresponsible, ill-considered, and professionally unjustified,” which could affect “the assertion of citizens’ rights, the relevance of court operations and the consistency of verdicts.” The document also said the proposal was discriminative, and violated international standards and regulations concerning the independence and legal status of judges.

Parliament nonetheless approved the proposal in mid-April, with the new Constitution to come into force on January 1, 2012.

Based on the new legislation, 228 judges will have to retire before the end of this year, a further 46 during 2012 and another 350 by 2014. New judges will need to be appointed in approximately 40,000 cases, causing considerable delays in court procedures, the judges’ document said.

András Baka, president of the Supreme Court, said court cases could be delayed by as much as one and a half years as a result of the new law. It is still not known whether there will be enough time for adjustment, Baka said.

“The judicial profession can not be exposed to such sudden changes,” Baka said. “Judges’ work should be protected by each and every body of the state; judges need to be assured of their independent status, because it is unacceptable if a judge is bribed or frightened.”

The retirement age for judges in Europe is currently the lowest in Slovakia (62), Malta (61) and Cyprus (63), although the latter two are set to be raised to 65 and 68 years, respectively.

Although the Hungarian government plans to raise the general retirement age to 65 years by 2021, the current legislation goes against European practice, Baka said. “Reducing the age limit can only be interpreted as an attack on the courts,” he noted.

This article appeared in the BBJ's Law & Tax special report on May 6, 2011.