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ECtHR: judge’s dismissal from the role of President of Supreme Court violates Convention

The ECtHR proclaimed judgement in the case of Andras Baka v. Hungary. Andras Baka was President of the Hungarian Supreme Court. Following the constitutional reform in 2011 and the transformation of the Supreme Court into a new body, the Curia, he was removed from his function. The ECtHR ruled, among other things, that the dismissal violated the right to have access to a court. The HFHR filed an amicus curiae brief in the proceedings pending before the ECtHR.

In 2009, Mr Baka was elected President of the Supreme Court, with a term of office ending in 2015. However, under the newly adopted legislation he was removed from his role. At the same time, a new procedure was introduced for the election of the President of the Curia. The new provisions laid down, among other things, a requirement of having at least five years of service status as a judge in Hungary. This resulted in the applicant’s automatic removal from the pool of candidates for the office, since he served as a judge at the European Court of Human Rights for the most of his career. According to the applicant, his was dismissed in connection with his critical assessment of the judicial system reforms adopted by the Hungarian Parliament, which he expressed in his capacity as President of the Supreme Court.

In the first place, the ECtHR found a violation of the right to have access to a court enshrined in Article 6 of the Convention. The Strasbourg Court noted that Mr Baka was in no position to challenge the premature termination of his office because he was removed from his function following an amendment to the constitution. Constitutional provisions could not be subject to any form of judicial review, even by the Constitutional Court.

The ECtHR also found that Hungary violated Article 10 of the Convention by disproportionately interfering with the applicant’s right to freedom of expression. In the Court’s opinion the applicant’s dismissal was the result of his publicly expressed criticism of the government’s policy on judicial reform.

In its judgment the ECtHR referred to the amicus curiae brief filed by the HFHR. The HFHR compared Mr Baka’s case to the Polish case of judges not appointed to office, which also involved limits on legislative interference with the judicial function.

“The Court’s ruling in the discussed case may be important not only for Hungary. It may also contribute to the consolidation of standards of judicial independence and relations between various branches of government in a democratic state ruled by law”, reads the HFHR’s brief.

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