Top Hungarian lawyer accuses PM Orban of harming rule of law

By Marton Dunai

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s top defense lawyer accused Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Tuesday of undermining the rule of law through his refusal to accept two court decisions that require payouts of state funds.

Orban, long at odds with the European Union on a range of issues, said this month his government would disobey court orders to compensate former prisoners for inhumane treatment and would also not pay a court-mandated fine to a Roma community in eastern Hungary in a case of alleged school segregation.

However, in an apparent climbdown, a government decree on Tuesday instructed the justice minister to compensate prisoners only at “the very last minute allowed by the law”, and called for an immediate review of regulations governing such payments.

“(The government has) affected confidence in justice and especially court decisions, and I must say the rule of law,” Hungarian Bar Association Chairman Janos Banati told Reuters.

“If the state can disobey rulings, people can later decide to skip paying taxes they deem unfair, or ignore a court ruling on child custody… That’s the most dangerous aspect of this.”

“A democratic state (means) everyone accepts court decisions,” Banati added.

A government spokesman declined to comment on Banati’s criticism. Orban’s spokesman was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.

Orban, a nationalist, has regularly dismissed concerns over the rule of law in Hungary and says they are fabricated by his political opponents, often at the behest of Hungarian-born, U.S.-based billionaire philanthropist George Soros, whom he accuses of disrespecting Hungary’s sovereignty.

Another senior lawyer, Gyorgy Magyar, echoed Banati’s criticism of the government’s approach to the law.

“They want to pick which ruling to honor and which to ignore. In that case, they don’t really even need the courts, do they? They can just tell everyone what’s right and wrong,” said Magyar, an ally of Gergely Karacsony, the opposition mayor of Budapest.

(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Gareth Jones)