Introduction to Hungarian Law Research
By Zsuzsanna Antal
Read the Update!
Zsuzsanna Antal works for the Central European University Library in Budapest, Hungary where she is the Head of Collection Management. She received a Master degrees in sociology and library and information science at Lajos Kossuth University, Debrecen, Hungary. She had been a reference librarian at the University Library of Lajos Kossuth University from 1996 to 1999.
Update to an article previously published on LLRX.com on December 3, 2001
Table of Contents
Hungary is an independent, democratic constitutional state. According to the revised Constitution that came into force on October 23, 1989, Hungary is a parliamentary republic. Hungary has a civil law system and the courts directly interpret the words of the legislation. The sources of Hungarian law are the Acts of Parliament, governmental and ministerial decrees, which are valid only if published in the Official Gazette, and decrees of local governments. The legal system of the Republic of Hungary accepts the universally recognized rules and regulations of international law, and shall harmonize the internal laws and statutes of the country with the obligations assumed under international law.
The basic and supreme law of the Republic of Hungary is the Constitution. The Government bears the obligation of submitting to Parliament the Bills necessary for the enactment of the Constitution. The Constitution in its present form is a compilation and consolidation of the modifications of the earlier constitution (Article XX of 1949) into a coherent structure. Important stages in the process of drafting the Constitution were Act XXXI of 1989 and Act XL of 1990.
The Hungarian Constitution regulates two classical constitutional areas: state administration (national government, local government, and organizations for the protection of rights) and the listing of the basic rights of citizens. The chapters of the Constitution cover the following: general decrees, Parliament, the President of the Republic, the Constitutional Court, the parliamentary Ombudsman, the State Auditing Office, the National Bank of Hungary, the Government, local governments, the court system, the Public Prosecutor's Office, basic rights and obligations of citizens, electoral principles, the nation's capital, national symbols of the Republic of Hungary, and the decrees for implementation (in Hungarian, in English and in German, in English, only Chapters I-IX)
The Hungarian Parliament (National Assembly) is a legislative body whose range of law-making activity is extensive and whose structure is unicameral consisting of 386 members. MPs are elected for four-year terms by popular vote. Of the 386 total seats, 176 are decided in individual constituency elections, 152 on the basis of 20 district lists (county and municipal), and 58 seats on the basis of national lists. Every Hungarian citizen at the age of 18 and over has the right to vote, and is at the same time eligible to be a candidate for elective office.
In the Parliament the legislative supervision is exercised during plenary sessions through
questions and interpellations. In addition to the plenary sessions, the parliamentary committees also play a significant role in the supervision of the executive branch of government. There are also individual parliamentary control bodies, like the State Audit Office and the institution of the Ombudsman.
Within its competence, Parliament enacts the Constitution of the Republic of Hungary; it also frames laws; ratifies the international treaties that are of outstanding significance for the external relations of the Republic of Hungary; and elects the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the members
of the Constitutional Court, the ombudsman to deal with the observation of civil rights and the rights of national and ethnic minorities, the President and Vice Presidents of the State Audit Office, the President of the Supreme Court and the Chief Prosecutor.
Parliament passes a decision with the affirmative votes of over half of the MPs present. For the amendment of the Constitution, or for passing certain decisions defined in the Constitution, the affirmative votes of two-thirds of the Members of Parliament are required.
The President of the Republic, the Government, any parliamentary committee and any Member of Parliament may initiate legislation. The right of legislation is vested in Parliament. Within fifteen days -- or, if the Speaker of Parliament so requests, within five days -- of receipt of the law framed, the President of the Republic endorses it and sees to its promulgation. Ratified Acts of Parliament have to be published in the Official Gazette (Magyar Közlöny).
The President of the Republic is Hungary's head of state, and is elected by Parliament by secret ballot for a term of five years. The President of the Republic may be re-elected for this office for no more than one additional term.
The traditional rights of the head of state, also set down in the Hungarian Constitution, have been defined in relation to legislative, executive, and judicial authority, according to a system of separation of powers. His sphere of authority as regards judicial power includes the appointment of judges and the granting of individual pardons.
The President of the Republic concludes international treaties and agreements on behalf of the Republic of Hungary. If the subject of the agreement belongs under the competence of the legislation, the prior agreement of Parliament is required for concluding the agreement.
The Constitutional Court has existed as an institution in Hungary since 1989, established by Act I of the Constitution. Actually it has been functioning since January 1, 1990.
The Constitutional Court oversees the constitutionality of legal provisions. Any law or legal measure found unconstitutional is annulled by the Constitutional Court. In the cases defined by the law, anyone may initiate proceedings at the Constitutional Court. The eleven members of the Constitutional Court are elected by Parliament. Two-thirds of the affirmative votes of the Members of Parliament are necessary for election to the Constitutional Court. The law defines the main tasks of the Constitutional Court as follows: it interprets the Constitution; it provides normative standards and supervision over the constitutionality of laws; it reconciles the differences between international and domestic law; it renders decisions on constitutional challenges; it determines negligence in violations of constitutionality; it renders decisions on debates of authority; it establishes the public responsibilities of the head of state and other public officials; and it determines the spheres of authority of municipalities and local authorities, and interprets limitations on public referendums.
The Constitutional Court is the only forum in Hungary whose decisions are binding on everyone. There is no domestic recourse of appeal to them. The rulings of the Constitutional Court are published in the Official Gazette.
It is the duty of the Parliamentary Commissioner (Ombudsman) for Civil Rights and Ombudsman for the protection of national and minority rights to investigate any abuse of constitutional rights or that of nationality or ethnic minority rights that has come to their attention, and to initiate general or particular measures for redress.In cases defined by law, anyone may propose that the Ombudsman take action.The Ombudsmen for civil rights and for national and minority rights are elected, on the nomination of the President of the Republic, by Parliament – with two-thirds of the affirmative votes of all MPs necessary. For the protection of certain constitutional rights, Parliament may elect separate Ombudsmen. Each Ombudsman reports on his activities and experiences annually to Parliament. Annual reports can be read on the web at http://www.obh.hu.
The Government consists of the Prime Minister and the government ministers. The Prime Minister is elected by a simple majority vote of the Members of Parliament. Parliament decides on the election of the Prime Minister and on acceptance of the Government program at the same time. The ministers are proposed by the Prime Minister, and appointed and relieved of their duties by the President of the Republic.The Government can issue decrees and also conclude international agreements in the name of the Republic of Hungary.The establishment of ministries falls within the competence of Parliament and law defines their status. Heading each ministry is a single responsible minister who is also a member of the cabinet. The leading officials of the ministries are the political and administrative state secretaries. The office of the political state secretary, who have to be an elected MP and is authorized to represent the minister in Parliament, is a characteristic institution of a coalition government. The administrative state secretary is the professional head of the apparatus and his appointment is for an unlimited period of time.
The Government takes the necessary measures to ensure public law and order and public security, participates in the determination of foreign policy, as well as concludes international agreements on behalf of the Government of the Republic of Hungary. In its own sphere of functions the Government issues decrees and passes resolutions, which are signed by the Prime Minister. In the performance of their functions, the Prime Minister and the members of the Government may issue decrees. No decree and resolution of the Government may be contrary to the law and any decree of the Prime Minister and the members of the Government must not be contrary to any law or any Government decree and resolution.
Decrees issued by the Government, the Prime Minister or the members of the Government must be promulgated in the Official Gazette.
The territory of the Republic of Hungary consists of administrative units including the capital and 19 counties. Local self-government means autonomous and democratic management of local affairs by the communities concerned and exercise of local public authority. The members of the representative body are elected for a term of four years. More information on this issue could be found at these URLs:
A local representative body may frame decrees within its competence, which,
however, must not be in conflict with legal provisions of higher level.
In the Republic of Hungary there is a three-tier judicial system; the Supreme Court of the Republic of Hungary, the Court of the Capital City and the county (municipal) courts, and local (municipal district) courts administer justice.
The areas of jurisdiction indulge criminal, civil and administrative law. Administrative judgments prevail within the framework of normal courts, which according to existing regulations must review the legality of administrative actions. Their jurisdiction is related to the application of the law; that is, judges do not make the law.
The Supreme Court of the Republic of Hungary sets guidelines based on principles for the judicial work of every court. The directives and decisions in questions of principle of the Supreme Court are binding on all courts of the country. They are accessible on the web in Hungarian.The President of the Republic elects the President of the Supreme Court, after nomination, by Parliament. Professional judges are appointed by the President of the Republic.
The legal profession is generally organized as sole practices and small firms. A significant number of international law firms are represented in Hungary, and specialization is developing in a variety of areas.
The Library of the Hungarian Parliament is the national special library and information center of legal literature. Its holding is over 800,000 library items.
The databases, which are accessible exclusively in the Parliamentary Library, contain bibliographical information of selected literature of Hungarian law covering book reviews, periodical articles and essays.
Supplemented with some earlier items. It is accessible only for the librarians of the Library of the Hungarian Parliament. (8600 articles March 2001)
Presently accessible: selected materials from1962–1963, 1967–1979 (19,990 items)
It covers bibliographical information of interdisciplinary areas and Hungarian and foreign language legal monographs, essays, articles of legal periodicals and social sciences periodicals published in Hungary since January 1, 1990. It contains the laws and collection of laws as well. It does not cover articles published in dailies or weeklies. Updated weekly. (50,882 items)
Selected Bibliography of Hungarian Legal Literature, 1990-1994 on CD-ROM
Old Hungarian Statutes (Corpus Iuris)
The database is accessible only in the Parliamentary Library. It contains the titles of Hungarian statutes enacted before 1949 and some statutes with full text from the period 1001-1361. (8,399 items)
CD-ROMs of valid laws and decrees are available as well, updated monthly and published by private companies e.g. CompLEX CD jogtár, CD Jogász. Both companies offer fee-based online services for subscribers.
Statutes enacted by the Hungarian Parliament since 1990 can be found on the web arranged in chronological order, without any search options.
The Minister of Justice and the state secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office are responsible for the publication of the official codes of laws.