Communication on the medium term institutional strategy of the Curia of Hungary

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Communication on the 2019 medium-term institutional strategy of the Curia of Hungary

Aim of the strategy

Strategic planning and related concrete action plans are also needed by institutions performing public tasks and having important duties set out in legislation. Statutory duties can and must be interpreted in a coherent manner and the means for the accomplishment of the duties must also be worked out in such manner – whilst due regard is to be paid to the changes in the social environment. Starting from these assumptions, the Curia of Hungary (henceforth: ‘the Curia’) had adopted a medium-term strategy already in 2013 and, following the expiry of that strategy in 2018, elaborated its next medium-term strategy in 2019.

Structure of the strategy

Just as the 2013 strategy, the Introduction of the new strategy describes the Curia’s vision of its own role, as well as the aims to be achieved and the values to be enforced by the Curia. The next five major chapters deal with the following issues, in order of importance: aims related to the performance of the Curia’s core activities; background ensuring the effective performance of the core activities; external relations; enforcing horizontal aspects in the implementation of the strategy; and, finally, change management. In order to ensure easy understanding, the sub-chapters of chapters 2-4 have a similar logical structure. In elaborating a task or problem, the strategy first sets out the relevant institutional aim, then describes the present situation, the problems and challenges that arose, the medium-term aims to be achieved and, finally, the steps of implementing the aims and of checking the implementation of the aims.

Members of the strategy planning working group and the methodology of planning

The strategy has been worked out by judges and judicial employees of the Curia and has been approved by the President of the Curia. In the working group all Curia Departments and Sections and the major non-adjudicative administrative units were represented.

In preparing the strategy, the strategy planning working group relied on the experience gained from the drafting of the 2013 strategy, the relevant documents of other public institutions, and the results of opinion polls carried out among Curia judges.

General institutional aims of the strategy

The general concept is reflected in the adopted aims and values which are the following:

1. The Curia’s task is to protect the rule of law, legal certainty and equal rights.
2. The Curia must ensure the enforcement of the principles of democratic exercise of power as laid down in the Fundamental Law of Hungary (henceforth: ‘the Fundamental Law’), with special regard to the value of judicial independence.
3. The Curia enforces human rights in conformity with the Fundamental Law and the international conventions.
4. The Curia ensures high-standard, unified, consistent and predictable adjudication, and endeavours to promote justice.
5. The Curia shapes its operational and organisational structure by having regard to the requirements of transparency and efficiency, and to the values and ethical principles adopted by the judiciary.
6. The Curia is committed to maintaining an organisational culture which resists corruption, and to strengthening institutional integrity.
7. The Curia devotes special attention to dialogue with the lower courts, other judicial institutions, and the bodies administering the courts.
8. The Curia is open to, and ready for, dialogue with professional partners and deems it important to maintain communication with other segments of the general public, too.
9. The Curia fully complies with the tasks that flow from Hungary’s EU membership and actively participates in international judicial cooperation.

The Curia must enforce and realise its core values and aims by constantly adjusting itself to the changes in the regulatory framework and by relying on the experience gained during its operation. To succeed in this work, three conditions must be met: high professional standard, effective work by the judiciary, and public confidence in the judiciary. In order to satisfy the public law requirements and the public’s demands vis-à-vis the judiciary, judicial forums must perform well in all the three aspects simultaneously.

The Curia is the highest judicial forum in the single Hungarian court system, therefore it is responsible also for the work of the lower courts. This model explains the practice that on certain issues of interpretation the Curia works out solutions in cooperation with lower court judges.

Strategic aims in the light of the Curia’s core activities

In the field of the Curia’s core activities a priority aim is to further develop uniform jurisprudence. It requires a systematic screening of the former guidelines on principles and the identification of the ones that no longer provide guidance under the legislation in force, and the regular publishing of thematic collections of leading cases. The information-chain through which lower court judgments laying down principles reach the Curia must be maintained. The need to review the system of jurisprudence-analysing is also related to this task: experience shows that jurisprudence-analysing performs its function most effectively if the analysis involves an in-depth examination of the jurisprudence of a specific area of law or a specific legal institution and not of a question of interpretation related to principles but having arisen on an ad hoc basis. Lower court judges must be encouraged to raise issues of interpretation before the consultative bodies operating at the Curia.

Moreover, it is expedient to set up, with the involvement of all court departments and sections, a national database containing copies of background materials elaborated by the departments, records of discussions and debates conducted at department meetings, and minutes of positions adopted at such meetings.

With the introduction of ‘genuine constitutional complaint’ the fundamental rights related dimension of judicial adjudication has become more and more pregnant. In this field a strategic aim is to bring about and develop constitutional dialogue with the Constitutional Court in order to ensure that court decisions are annulled as rarely as possible. The settling by law of the question of parallel proceedings conducted before the Constitutional Court and the Curia is also of great importance.

Successful work performance is also an aim in the application of supranational (EU) law. In this field a measure of success is the number of preliminary ruling references admitted by the Court of Justice of the European Union. Another aim is to reconcile the new procedural rules governing the legal institutions of permission and admission with the requirements of EU law.

The dissemination among judges of the results achieved in the area of norm control of local government legislation is also imperative, given that under the Code of Administrative Court Procedure administrative courts operate as norm controlling courts in respect of local government normative decisions.

In addition to ensuring high-standard and uniform jurisprudence, in terms of efficiency the maintenance of the present level can be set as an aim. However, it seems to be expedient to work out an action plan for situations involving sudden arrivals of large numbers of cases.

Strategic issues related to the background ensuring the effective performance of the core activities

As to the tasks related to the Curia’s organisation and personnel, the introduction of measures to reduce judges’ workload remains a priority. As to the Curia’s organisation, the formation of optimally composed judicial panels by having due regard to the characteristics of the specific fields of law, and the further development of the system of senior legal advisors assisting the panels continue to be of great importance. In setting up so-called case preparation teams to support the work of the judicial panels, full utilisation of the professional expertise of the Curia’s judicial employees can be a further step.

An aim closely related to institutional operation is the creation of a predictable application system of filling judicial vacancies.

Workflow rationalisation also includes the constant development of the technical/IT background and the digital services which support judges’ adjudicative and jurisprudence-uniforming activities.

An aim above and beyond the Curia’s adjudicative activities is the realisation of developments guaranteeing IT security and safeguarding IT operations. In the Curia’s future new building the applicability of energy efficient and environment-friendly solutions, including the replacement of paper correspondence with e-correspondence and paper case management with electronic case management, will be considered already in the phase of planning.

The Curia’s external relations

The results of the Curia’s highly professional and effective work must be presented in a manner enabling the general public, legal professionals, the legislature and international forums to perceive and make use of the results.

To this end, streamlined internal horizontal communication is very important, because it enables the Curia to communicate in a unified manner and to send professionally correct and easily understandable messages to the outer world. The communications trainings offered to judges also serve this purpose. To properly administer the Curia’s website, to regularly monitor and develop it by uploading oral, live and picture contents is also a must in the 21st century.

The Curia’s increased active participation in the activities of the international judicial networks, in particular by making use of the possibilities offered by European and regional cooperation (via, for example, mutual learning, knowledge sharing and exchange of experience), is also a recent challenge.

Naturally, to ensure a balanced relationship with the judicial bodies administering the courts and to maintain dialogue with the Constitutional Court is also of fundamental importance.

It is to be achieved that the Curia be vested with the right of making observations, directly and separately, on bills and laws affecting the judiciary, thus institutionalising the Curia’s participation in the legislative work, especially in respect of laws related to the administration of justice by the judiciary and the administration of the courts.

The Curia should, in the future, too, strive to offer optional courses at the law faculties of the universities and regular traineeship possibilities, and to set up a scientific council within its organisation.

Horizontal aspects and change management

The implementation of the strategy cannot be successful if certain aspects are not taken into due consideration. The Curia’s former strategy contained the aims of strengthening legal certainty, as a constitutional requirement, and ensuring sustainable development. In addition to these aims, the present strategy specifies compliance with data protection requirements, and contains a chapter on change management.

In view of the recent and prospective legislative changes affecting the Curia, to achieve the strategic aims it is essential that the Curia can proactively react to the challenges of the regulatory and operational framework and can modify the aims in the light of the changes in the environment. Moreover, the Curia must ensure, by properly ranking its priorities, that the achievement of the aims is commenced immediately after the adoption of the present strategy.

The achievement of the aims requires that the Curia has, within its organisation, an administrative and professional knowledgebase capable of immediately reacting to external changes and cooperating effectively, hence capable, on the one hand, of preparing in advance for possible and prospective changes and responding proactively to changes instead of attempting to maintain undisturbed functioning and to further the strategic aims retroactively, when changes have already occurred and, on the other hand, capable of continuously fostering the achievement of the strategic aims and making corrections whenever corrections are needed.

This task will be performed by the administrative professional team which has been set up at the Curia from staff members representing the various strategic fields.

 

The medium term institutional strategy of the Curia was adopted in September 2013 within the framework and with the financial support of project no. 1.1.19 2012 2012 0002 of the State Reform Operational Programme

Main aim of the strategy:

The strategy was inspired by the leaders of the Curia who recognised the necessity of assessing the Curia’s personnel, as well as its legal and infrastructural background in 2013 in the light of the performance of its constitutional task, namely the unification of judicial practice. During the elaboration phase, the strategy planning working group took into consideration not only the traditions of the Curia and the Supreme Court, but also the principles, ideas and solutions of the supreme judicial bodies of other European countries regarding their organisational and personnel issues.

Structure of the strategy:

The strategy consists of the following prime elements: introduction, status quo analysis, objectives and proposals. The most important parts of the strategy include the basic principles enumerated in the introduction, the status quo analysis and the medium term proposals.

Members of the strategy planning working group:

The substantive sections of the strategy have been elaborated by Curia judges. The working group was composed of judges with diverse professional experience: court leaders, senior judges and judges who had gained valuable experience from their service at lower instance courts or at the Constitutional Court, from their work in public administration or from their international study visits; their knowledge has undoubtedly enriched the content of the strategic document.

The working method of the working group was based on the principle of majority decision making, meaning that the inclusion of statements, conclusions and proposals in the strategy required a simple majority vote from the group members.

The court leaders of the Curia had all given their opinion on the draft version of the institutional strategy which was ultimately approved by the President of the Curia.

1.

In the process of elaborating the strategy, the working group took into account the basic principles that should influence the adjudicating activity of the supreme judicial body.

The Curia attaches primary importance to the democratic and constitutional structure of the Hungarian State, in particular to the principles of the rule of law and legal certainty. Under the doctrine of the separation of powers, the Curia is the highest instance body of the independent and neutral judicial branch which is mostly characterised by its consistent, stable and continuous case law. The Curia strives to deliver its court decisions in a unified, predictable and fair manner. It considers important to ensure transparency both in its adjudicating activity and in respect of its organisational structure, while it nurtures dialogue with other state institutions.

The Curia regards continuity a value, therefore, in the elaboration phase it gave particular attention to prior findings and successful operational solutions, as well as to previously revealed dysfunctional practices and expressed criticisms. As a result, the institutional strategy incorporates certain elements from the 2012 strategy of the National Office for the Judiciary, the 2005 2009 action programme of the Supreme Court, the 2010 decision of the National Council of Justice and the 2007 studies of three different research centres, commissioned by the National Council of Justice.

Furthermore, the strategy considers it important to observe the indicators of the EU Justice Scoreboard as defined in the document “COM(2013) 160 final” of the European Commission.

2.

With an emphasis on the most significant topics, the status quo analysis describes and occasionally analyses the Curia’s organisational, personnel and infrastructural issues, its economic situation, moreover, its public and international relations.

The status quo analysis contains important findings related to the unification of judicial practice.

After the end of World War II, the Curia was forced to change direction in its adjudicating activity. Due to the complete transformation of the Hungarian legal system, the Curia could no longer continue the unification of judicial practice based on its case law, a method rooted in European legal traditions. The Supreme Court was given the tasks to ensure the uniform interpretation of law and, as a measure of legislative policy, to provide theoretical guidance for lower instance courts. The 1997 judicial reforms resulted in a change in priorities, hence, theoretical guidance lost momentum for the benefit of the unification of judicial practice.

In our days, the Curia belongs to the relatively populous group of European supreme courts. The Curia’s renewed position, however, couples with the principle of providing to the fullest possible extent the opportunity for the parties to proceedings to use extraordinary remedies. It should also be noted that in 1992 the Constitutional Court abolished the legal instrument of veto in the interest of legality. As a result of these circumstances and an increase in workload, the Supreme Court became an appellate court, and its unbeneficial status could not be altered – due to the decision of the Constitutional Court rendered in 2004 – even by the successive, favourable modifications of procedural rules. In addition, the Curia has long established organisational traditions and heavily specialised judicial panels.

The comparison of European models shows that there are co ordination mechanisms capable of harmonising the activities and practices of different departments and organisational entities, as well as creating a uniform theoretical basis on areas of common interest (e.g. the role of fundamental rights in the adjudication of cases, the drafting of court decisions, the use of language in court documents, legitimate legal argumentation and interpretation methods, etc.). The organisational structures of standard European supreme courts take into account the existence of such co ordination mechanisms.

The strategy takes into account and examines those legal instruments that serve the uniformity of judicial practice. It announces the results of a representative survey that was carried out by the working group, in which almost eight hundred judges were asked to give their opinion on the role of the Curia in the unification of judicial practice and on the information flow between the Curia and lower instance courts. The answers disclose moderate satisfaction. The strategy examined the experiences of jurisprudence analysis, a new legal institution, up until now. Besides numerous good initiatives and local solutions, it identified problems as regards the dialogue between the various court levels from the aspect of both legislation and practice.

The strategy drew up the tasks demanding pro activity on the part of the Curia. It established that Hungarian judges actively and successfully meet the responsibilities conferred on them by EU legislation. The introduction of the constitutional complaint and the development of multi level fundamental rights protection constitute new challenges for judges. They make it necessary to re think and re structure the method of preparing cases concerning both form and content.

The strategy examined the relationship of the Curia with other institutions. It noted that its relationship with the National Office for the Judiciary is important and active in practice, and due to the President’s membership in the National Council of Judges the Curia takes an active part in that body too. Besides, the Curia has satisfactory relationship with institutions of justice taken in a wider sense and it has created the opportunity for professional dialogue with the institutions of legal science and other fields of science.

The status quo analysis also touches on the restricted role of the Curia in the preparation of legislation. It noted that this modified role does not affect the primary role of Curia judges in the application of law.

3.

The comprehensive aim of the strategy is to ensure that the Curia functions transparently and effectively, especially in the field of the unification of judicial practice. To attain this goal the following have to be fulfilled: a) developing the system of jurisprudence analysis, b) developing an intensive relationship with lower instance courts, c) publishing regularly documents that promote the unification of judicial practice.

The strategy envisions to achieve the aims in two dimensions. Within the scope of the social dimensions it plans to function in a way that makes it capable to fulfil its tasks within the system of the separations of powers, to dispose of cases in a professional and up to date manner, to ensure the unified application of law in cases involving serious interests and fundamental rights.

The Curia has to attain these goals primarily in the frame of existing legal and economic conditions. The strategy indicates it at each proposal whether it can be implemented within the existing framework or it is beyond the competence of the Curia either from the aspect of legal provisions or from the aspect of budgetary means.

4.

In order to achieve the indicated goals, the strategy points out the following fields where intervention is needed:
a) developing the structure of grand chambers;
b) ensuring transparency in announcing positions at the Curia;
c) developing the framework for collecting and analysing data on caseload;
d) reviewing the work, qualification and remuneration of judicial employees at the Curia;
e) developing the career of legal secretaries, drawing legal secretaries into preparing cases to be reviewed by the Curia;
f) reviewing the IT network of the Curia from the aspect to what extent it supports the work of the judges, the contact with parties, connecting the IT network of the Curia to the IT network of the judiciary;
g) developing guarantees that ensure that budgetary resources are continuously at disposal;
h) developing the channels of internal communication;
i) creating a well recognisable image of the Curia in the media, developing channels of communication that pave the way to a better understanding of the decisions of the Curia made in important cases;
j) consciously applying the means for the unification of judicial practice;
k) continually reviewing the timeliness of the means for the unification of judicial practice;
l) enforcing the theses summarised in the strategy on jurisprudence analysis;
m) strengthening the formal connections built up until now with lower instance courts, instituting new means of contact;
n) publishing more intensively documents promoting unified judicial practice;
o) developing a coherent and value based judicial practice, providing professional but understandable and transparent reasoning;
p) providing structural means to ensure the preparation of cases;
q) finding ways to ensure a more intensive participation in the drafting of legal rules.

While retaining and relying on the results achieved until now, the realisation of the aims of the strategy can significantly contribute to enabling the Curia to fulfil its role conferred on it by the Fundamental Law.

Budapest, the 26th of September 2013