Top EU court rules Hungarian judge can’t be punished for seeking guidance

FILE PHOTO: Hungarian PM Orban
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Budapest, Hungary, October 26, 2021. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo

November 23, 2021

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – National judges in EU countries cannot be forbidden from seeking guidance from the European Court of Justice, the top EU court ruled on Tuesday in the case of a Hungarian judge who was disciplined for doing just that.

EU member Hungary is ruled by the eurosceptic and nationalist Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban and, like Poland to its north, is trying to curb the independence of judges and their right to refer cases to the EU court.

Hungary’s Supreme Court declared a request by a Hungarian judge to the ECJ for advice about arrangements for interpreters for foreigners accused of crimes unlawful. The judge was placed under a disciplinary process.

“EU law precludes disciplinary proceedings from being brought against a national judge on the ground that he or she has made a reference for a preliminary ruling to the Court of Justice,” the EU court said, adding such disciplinary proceedings could undermine judicial independence.

“On the basis of the primacy of EU law, a national court must disregard any national judicial practice which is prejudicial to its right to make a reference to the Court of Justice,” the court said.

“The principle of the primacy of EU law requires the lower court to disregard the decision of the supreme court of the Member State concerned,” the court said.

In July, Hungary rejected a demand from the European Commission and many EU lawmakers to repeal new legislation banning schools from using materials deemed to promote homosexuality.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told Budapest to respect EU values of tolerance or leave the bloc.

(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Nick Macfie)