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UPDATE: Introduction to Hungarian Law Research

 

By Zsuzsanna Antal

 

Zsuzsanna Antal works for the Central European University Library in Budapest, Hungary where she is the Systems Librarian and Deputy Head Librarian. She received Masters degrees in sociology and library and information science at Lajos Kossuth University (now University of Debrecen), Debrecen, Hungary. She had been a reference librarian at the University Library of Lajos Kossuth University from 1996 to 1999.

 

Published November 2013
(Previously updated in August 2009)

See the Archive Version!

 

 

Table of Contents

1.     Introduction

2.     Constitution

3.     Parliament

4.     President of the Republic

5.     Constitutional Court

6.     Parliamentary Commissioner

7.     Government

7.1. Official Sites

8.     Local Governments

9.     The Judiciary

10.  Legal Profession

10.1.                Law Faculties

11.   Sources of Legal Literature

12.  Main Information Sources

12.1.                Databases

12.2.                Printed Materials

1.     Introduction

Hungary is an independent, democratic constitutional state governed by the rule of law. Hungary’s legal system is based on the Fundamental Law of Hungary entered into force on January 1, 2012. According to the Fundamental Law, Hungary is a parliamentary republic. The functioning of the Hungarian State is based on the principle of division of powers. The supreme legislative body is the Parliament, the power of the executive branch is vested in the government and the judiciary is the system of courts.

 

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.

2.     Constitution

The basic and supreme law of the Republic of Hungary is the Fundamental Law. It succeeded the 1949 Constitution, adopted on 20 August 1949 and thoroughly amended on 23 October 1989. Amendments to the 2012 Fundamental Law were approved in June, November and December 2012, and in March and September 2013. The Government bears the obligation of submitting to Parliament the Bills necessary for the enactment of the Constitution.

 

The Hungarian constitution regulates classical constitutional areas: state administration (national government, local governments, and organizations for the protection of rights) and the listing of the basic rights and duties of citizens. The chapters of the Fundamental Law cover the following: general decrees, Parliament, the President of the Republic, the Government, autonomous regulatory organs, the Constitutional Court, courts, the Prosecution Service, the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights, local governments, public finances, the Hungarian Defence Forces, the police and national security services, decisions on participation in military operations, special legal orders in case of national crisis and state of emergency, basic rights and obligations of citizens, electoral principles, the nation's capital, national symbols of the Republic of Hungary, and the decrees for implementation.

 

It can be found in Hungarian here.

It can be found in English here.

3.     Parliament

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.

 

Currently of the 386 total seats, 176 are decided in individual constituency elections, in 2010 146 were decided on the basis of 20 regional lists (county and municipal), and 64 seats on the basis of national lists.

Here, division of mandates is calculated on the basis of a complicated compensation method. While the number of single constituency MPs is 176, the number of MPs from the regional and the national list vary election to election, however, the total number always adds up to 210.

 

The following general election of Members of Parliament will be held in 2014. From the next parliamentary term on the number of MPs has been reduced to 200.

 

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 (standing as well as temporary) 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 Commissioner for Fundamental Rights.

 

Within its competence, the 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 and the President of the Constitutional Court, the President of the Curia, the President of the National Office for the Judiciary, the Prosecutor General, the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights and his or her deputies, and the President of the State Audit Office.

 

Parliament passes a decision with the affirmative votes of over half of the MPs present. For the amendment of the Fundamental Law, 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 the Parliament may initiate legislation. The right of legislation is vested in the Parliament. Within fifteen days -- or, if the Speaker of the 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 the Parliament have to be published in the Official Gazette (Magyar Közlöny).

4.     The President of the Republic

The President of the Republic is Hungary's head of state, and is elected in the 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 Fundamental Law of Hungary, 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 the Parliament is required for concluding the agreement.

5.     The Constitutional Court

The Constitutional Court has existed as an institution in Hungary since 1989, established by Act I of the Constitution. The Constitutional Court  has been functioning since January 1, 1990, its competence, organisationorganization and operation areoperation is regulated by Act n. CLI. of 2011, found here. 

 

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 Constitutional Court is a body of fifteen members, each elected for twelve years by a two-third majority of the Members of Parliament. Parliament shall elect, with a majority of two-thirds of the votes of all Members of Parliament, one member of the Constitutional Court to serve as its President until the expiry of Presidents mandate as a constitutional judge. Members of the Constitutional Court may not be members of a political party or engage in any political activity.

 

The law defines the main tasks of the Constitutional Court as follows: it  interprets the Fundamental Law; 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.

 

6.    The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights

Parliament elects the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights and his or her deputies for six years with the votes of two-thirds of all Members of Parliament. The deputies ensure the protection of the interests of future generations and of the rights of nationalities living in Hungary.

 

The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights performs fundamental rights protection activities. Anyone may initiate the proceedings of the Commissioner.

 

The Commissioner inquires into those improprieties related to fundamental rights that have come to his or her attention, or have those improprieties inquired into, and initiates general or specific measures to remedy them.

 

The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights ensures the protection of the right of children, nationalities living in Hungary, the most vulnerable social groups, and the values determined as the interest of future generations. 

 

The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights may initiate Constitutional Court review of conformity of the promulgated Fundamental Law and any amendment thereof with the procedural requirements set in the Fundamental Law with respect to its adoption within 30 days after the promulgation. The Commissioner may initiate Constitutional Court review of the conformity of legal regulations with the Fundamental Law (Posterior Norm Control, Article 24 (2) e) of the Fundamental Law), may also initiate Constitutional Court proceeding if legal regulations are in conflict with the provisions of an international treaty (Examination of Conflicts with International Treaties Article 24 (2) f) of the Fundamental Law), and reports annually to Parliament on his or her activity.

 

 

The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights  in Hungary is independent from the government, other state organizations and the private sector, surveys and analyses the situation of fundamental rights in Hungary and reports on his activities and experiences annually to Parliament. Annual reports can be read  here.

7.     The Government

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 ministers of state of various ministerial sections and the state secretary. The state secretary directs the Ministry’s organizsation, and ensures its coordinated operation.

 

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.

7.1.         Official Sites of Governmental Bodies:

·       Prime Minister's Office  

·       Ministry of Defence

·       Ministry of Foreign Affairs

·       Ministry of Human Resources

·       Ministry of Interior

·       Ministry of National Development

·       Ministry for National Economy

·       Ministry of Public Administration and Justice

·       Ministry of Rural Development

8.    Local Governments

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.

 

A local representative body may frame decrees within its competence, which, however, must not be in conflict with legal provisions of higher level.

9.    The Judiciary

In the Republic of Hungary the justice is administered in a four-level system by the Curia (the principal judicial organ), the Regional Court of Appeal, the Regional Courts, and the District Courts.

 

The Curia is the principal judicial organ consisting of 91 judges. The Curia, inter alia, adopts uniformity decisions, which are binding on all courts, judges upon the appeals filed against the decisions of the Regional Courts and of the Regional Court of Appeal, performs the analysis of the judicial practice in the cases judged upon with final force, publishes guiding resolutions and guiding decisions and judges upon the collision of a local government decree with another statutory provision and it may annul the local government decree.

 

There are five Regional Courts of Appeal with 165 judges. The Regional Courts of Appeal judge upon the appeals filed against the decisions of the District courts and the Regional Courts, and act in other cases referred to its scope of competence.

 

There are 20 Regional Courts that hear cases in the first instance – in the cases specified in an Act of Parliament – and judge upon the appeals filed against the decisions of the District courts and the administrative and labor courts.

The District courts proceed as a court of first instance. Labor and administrative courts also proceed as a court of first instance and have been courts on local level since 1 January 2013.

 

The President of the Curia is elected by a two-thirds majority of the votes of all Members of Parliament for nine years at the proposal of the President of the Republic.

10. The Legal Profession

The legal profession is generally organized as solo practices and small firms. A significant number of international law firms are represented in Hungary, and specialization is developing in a variety of areas.

10.1.      Law Faculties or Institutes in Hungary

·       Eötvös Lóránd University, Budapest

·       University of Szeged  

·       University of Miskolc

·       University of Pecs

·       University of Debrecen

·       Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Budapest  

·       Károli Gáspar University of the Hungarian Reformed Church, Budapest  

11.  Sources of Legal Literature

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.

12.  Main Information Sources

12.1.      Databases of Hungarian Legal Literature

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.

Selection of legal periodicals covered in the databases:   

 

i. 1867-1944

Supplemented with some earlier items. It is accessible only for the librarians of the Library of the Hungarian Parliament. (8600 articles March 2001)

 

ii. 1945-1979

Presently accessible: selected materials from1962–1963, 1967–1979 (19,990 items)

 

iii. 1980-1989

15,531 items

 

iv. 1990-

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 real-time. , The entries created between 2000 and 2500 are accessible through the online catalogue of the Library of the Hungarian Parliament.

 

Selected Bibliography of Hungarian Legal Literature, 1990-1994 on CD-ROM.

 

Old Hungarian Statutes (Corpus Iuris Hungarici)

It contains the titles of Hungarian statutes enacted before 1949 and some statutes with full text from the period 1001-1361. (8,399 items). Published on CD-ROM.

 

In 2003 all the Hungarian statues enacted since 1000 was made accessible online free with full-text coverage by the publishing house, Complex. It is updated to 2003.

 

Online and offline electronic resources of valid laws and decrees are available as well, updated continuously and published by private companies e.g. Complex Jogtár, Complex Jogtár Plusz, Hivatalos Jogszabálytár.

As a pilot project the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice has launched the online collection of Hungarian laws (Nemzeti Jogszabálytár) that makes the valid laws, decrees and international treaties searchable and available online free of charge.

 

Statutes enacted by the Hungarian Parliament since 1990 can be accessed and browsed on the internet with a simple search option, updated monthly.

 

Hungarian legislation and public administration related information can be found here.

 

The Minister of Public Administration and Justice and the state secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office are responsible for the publication of the official codes of laws.

12.2.      Printed Collections of Laws

·       Magyar törvénytár [Budapest: Unió, 1990 - , ISBN 963-7890-24-6]. It is a loose-leaf publication, containing all statutes and international agreements.

·       Törvények és rendeletek hivatalos gyûjteménye [Budapest: Magyar Hivatalos Közlönyk., 1950-, ISSN 0133-770X] This annual publication contains all statues and decrees of the previous year in hierarchical and chronological order.