The following is a translation of an article written by Tibor Navracsics, Minister without portfolio for Land Development and senior research fellow at the Europe Strategy Research Institute, originally published on Ludovika.hu.
At the beginning of June, the European Commission published its eleventh 2023 EU Justice Scoreboard, a document that compares the judicial systems of the Member States based on mostly concrete data. Naturally, the picture drawn based on the data does not portray the European judicial systems as unproblematic at all. At the same time, the problems do not occur to the extent and especially not in the areas that political communication intimates.
The Justice Scoreboard, published annually since 2013, was the European Commission’s response to the debates related to the Hungarian, Maltese, Romanian, and later the Croatian and Polish judicial reforms. In the conflicts erupting back then, the opposing parties criticised the reforms on a political rather than a professional basis, so the Commission, which participated in the discussions only hesitantly at the time, felt the need to place its positions on more solid foundations.
This year’s scoreboard attempts to map the challenges that test the European judicial systems by looking at a larger array of issues than before. At the same time, the most important question examined has remained
the measurement of the perception of independence of the judiciary.
This year’s document is different from the previous ones in that this time sixteen new topics have been included in the survey, such as tackling corruption and ensuring equal access to justice.
The general findings of the 2023 Justice Scoreboard do not contain any particular novelty. Although citizens’ perception of the independence of the judiciary has somewhat improved in a significant part of the Member States, this issue still remains the most important problem regarding the relationship between the populace and the judiciary.
In addition to doubts about the independence of the judiciary, the efficient and fast handling of corruption cases, the digitalisation of justice administration, and access to justice of disadvantaged social groups are the main problems the judicial systems of every Member State has to deal with.
For Hungarian readers, the most important parts of the findings are of course those that rank the Hungarian judicial system compared to those of other Member States. In fact, the much-disputed judicial reform started ten years ago was necessary because the Hungarian system was one of the worst-performing ones in the European Union. In terms of both its independence and efficiency, it had to face serious and well-founded criticism, while the ever-increasing number of cases demanded the modernisation of not only the legal texts, but also the attitude of those administering justice.
Today, based on the findings, it seems that Hungarian judicial reform has borne fruit.
In terms of efficiency, the Hungarian judicial system is among the best-performing in the European Union regarding commercial, administrative, and civil proceedings, while the case load in the courts has also radically decreased compared to 2013, the first year of the survey.
In terms of digitalisation, the Hungarian judicial system also holds up well in European comparisons. Hungary ranks seventh out of the twenty-seven Member States in the use of digital tools for both law enforcement and legal proceedings, while in terms of digital possibilities for initiating criminal proceedings, our country offers its citizens the second broadest possibilities in the European Union after Estonia.
Nevertheless, it is a fact that, in contrast to other indicators, the Hungarian judiciary performs below the European Union average in terms of the perception of its independence. Based on this, we might state that the rule of law conditionality procedure launched against our country is justified. However, the validity of this argument is undermined by the fact that there are no criteria in this area either in which Hungary would not be ahead of several other Member States. For example, the Spanish, Slovak, Bulgarian, Polish, and Croatian public have a worse opinion of the independence of their country’s judiciary than the Hungarian.
Perhaps it also weakens the intention of the creators of the Justice Scoreboard, but what is true in any case is that despite the facts presented in it, it is only Hungary against whom the rule of law conditionality mechanism has been triggered, a perfect proof that essentially, the procedure itself is not based on facts, but rather on political opinions. The Hungarian judicial system performs exceptionally well in most areas, but even its weak points clearly do not pose a threat to the rule of law either.
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