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NEWS

Pre-trial detention in Hungary: decreasing numbers, remaining problems

editor - October 23, 2017 - Pre-trial detention

One year after the publication of Fair Trials’ regional report on the use of pre-trial detention in the European Union, we contacted our project partners in Hungary, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) to find out more about pre-trial detention changes on the ground. In this post, Nóra Novoszádek gives us an overview of the situation and explains recent trends in pre-trial detention figures. 

Decreasing numbers

As of 31 December 2016, 3,646 persons were held in pre-trial detention in Hungary, amounting to 20.6% of the total prison population. This is a decrease compared to previous years, following a trend which started in 2014: on 31 December 2013, the number of pre-trial detainees was 5,053, amounting to 28% of the prison population. Numbers have gradually decreased since then.

This trend is largely due to a 24% decrease in prosecutorial motions aimed at courts ordering pre-trialimage 4 detention from 2013 to 2015. Prosecutorial motions have also been slightly less successful in recent years, declining from over 90% to 87.7% in 2015 nationally – in many counties the success rate is still over 90%.

Even though the number of pre-trial detainees is on the decrease, the number and proportion of alternative coercive measures motioned by the prosecution and/or applied by the courts is still very low. In 2015, prosecutors motioned pre-trial detention in the investigation phase in 5,075 cases, while house arrest was motioned by the prosecution in 186 cases and a geographical ban (ban to leave a certain administrative area) in 216 cases.

Also, the decrease in the numbers unfortunately does not in itself guarantee that the decision-making process as a whole and the judicial decisions are consistently compliant with the standards set by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

Remaining deficiencies of the judicial decision-making

The latest report on the practice of pre-trial detention was published by the Curia (the Supreme Court of Hungary). The Curia found that, with regard to 2014 and 2015 decisions, when ordering pre-trial detention in the investigative phase, judges mostly relied on the reasons put forward by the prosecutor (in certain counties the text of the court decisions was identical to that of the prosecutorial motions). At the same time, judges often failed to react in their decisions to the reasoning of the defence counsel, including the motion for a less restrictive coercive measure.

The lack of adequate reasoning more generally is an additional problem: for instance, almost half of the first instance decisions assessed by the Curia included a reasoning which was less than one page long, and even that was formulaic. The reasoning of second instance decisions examined was only a few lines long, with little, formalistic, or no reaction to the content of the appeals.

In addition, Hungarian courts often fail to consider applicable ECtHR case-law: for example the Curia’s report shows that the risk of collusion is often referred to without a concrete motivation.

Even though practice seems to have improved, there are still issues of concern on a systemic level. On this point, the ECtHR will issue a much-awaited judgment in case Lakatos v. Hungary (communicated in April 2017). The Court will need to consider whether the repeated extensions of the applicant’s pre-trial detention are in breach of the “reasonable time” requirement of Article 5 § 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, given the rather formulaic reasoning provided by the Hungarian courts and the apparent lack of consideration of alternative measures. On a more general level, the Court will also consider whether to apply the pilot judgment procedure, whereby the Court identifies a systemic problem and gives the Government clear indications on the remedial measures to solve it.

Unlimited pre-trial detention

As reported in 2015, in December 2013 the Hungarian Parliament adopted an amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure, whereby the four-year time limit on duration of pre-trial detention pending a first instance judgment was abolished for those accused of crimes punishable by a prison term of up to 15 years or life-long imprisonment.

Following the requests of the HHC and the Eötvös Károly Institute, the Ombudsperson turned to the Constitutional Court regarding the matter in 2015, requesting it to abolish the respective legal provision on grounds of unconstitutionality. The Constitutional Court’s response remains pending. What is more, the new Code of Criminal Procedure, which was adopted in June 2017 and will enter into force on 1 July 2018, upholds the possibility of unlimited pre-trial detention in the case of certain criminal offences.

The new Code of Criminal Procedure

At the same time, the new Code of Criminal Procedure will introduce positive developments regarding coercive measures. Most importantly, the adopted law sees pre-trial detention as a last resort measure, underlining the requirement of proportionality, while it also broadens the scope of alternative coercive measures available to the authorities. Hopefully, this change in the approach will contribute to the reform of pre-trial detention and to an increased use of alternative coercive measures in Hungary.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71. For regular updates follow Fair Trials on Twitter and Facebook or sign up to our newsletter at the bottom of the page. CFB iconlick to share this story on Facebook

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If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

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