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  • Unions and supporters protest against the government on Dec. 8, 2018.

    Unions and supporters protest against the government on Dec. 8, 2018. | Photo: Reuters

Published 12 December 2018

The new courts will take over cases involving everything from taxation and elections to corruption and police abuse.

Hungary passed a law Wednesday to set up courts overseen directly by the justice minister, a move critics said would allow political interference in judicial matters and undermine the rule of law.

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A third-consecutive election win in April gave right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz - Hungarian Civic Alliance party a legislative majority, making the vote a formality.

The administrative courts will take over cases involving everything from taxation and elections to corruption and police abuse, currently handled in the main legal system. The bill also strips Hungary’s Supreme Court of its authority over these types of cases.

Orban’s government said the courts would be presided over by independent judges.

However, the justice minister will have big powers in appointing the judges and will oversee the courts’ budgets. According to rights groups, the bill compromises the separation between the executive and judicial powers and constitutes a further step towards authoritarianism.

“(The law) is a serious threat to the rule of law in Hungary and runs counter to values Hungary signed up to when it joined the European Union,” the rights group Helsinki Committee said in a statement.

“As the Bill undermines the separation of powers, the boundaries between the executive and judicial power in Hungary will be blurred and it could pave the way for the government’s political interference.”

In September the European Parliament voted to impose sanctions on Hungary for flouting EU rules on democracy, civil rights, and corruption. Hungary rejected the accusations.

The new administrative courts, including a separate new supreme court, will start operating in 2020.

The government has requested an opinion on the of the Venice Commission, a panel of constitutional law experts of the human rights body Council of Europe, about the legislation.

The Venice Commission confirmed it has received the request and is expected to adopt an opinion next year.

On Wednesday,  Fidesz legislators faced protests from labor unions over a law that raises the amount of overtime employers can demand by 60 percent. Critics are referring to the bill as the “slave law.”

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