The HCLU Takes the Case of the Silenced Judge to the ECtHR

Justice László Ravasz was sentenced by the Service Court of Second Instance attached to the Curia on 29 March 2012 on the ground of committing a disciplinary offence. The court initiated his dismissal and the President of the Republic dismissed him on 6 June. The judge committed the offence with the public expression of his views on the administration of the judiciary. It is the HCLU’s opinion that the sentence of the service court means an unacceptable constraint on the freedom of expression. Hence, the HCLU stands for the dismissed judge and represents him before the European Court of Human Rights in seeking remedies.

According to the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU), this sentence means an ill-founded and unproportionate constraint on the freedom of expression. It is true that for certain professions the limits of freedom are narrower than for ordinary citizens. Those limits, at the same time, shall not exclude anyone's critical opinion from public debates. Right to freedom of expression has only content-independent burdens for public officials, too, eg. he or she may not provide information on cases in progress. In this case, however, there is no content-independent burden: the content of the opinion was measured by the court. The opinion, saucy and arguable, and expressed in several media outlets, was about the methods and staff of the administration of courts. As the court self-revealingly remarked, „the offence is placed in the content of the expressions, instead of the subject of it”. Consequently, in the court's view, sanctions should fit to the measure of criticism in the opinion.

The disciplinary court holds that Justice Ravasz breached the duty of refraining from any political activity. The HCLU's view is the contrary: duty should entail the denial of the activity in a certain political party and should not exclude participation in public debates even for a judge. The requirement of the strict interpretation of the limits of freedom of expression may not involve that any political expression is prohibited for someone. It is illegitimate to obligate a judge to keep herself or himself away from public discourses on the res publica.

Dismissal is the most serious disciplinary punishment. Silencing the critical voices, though, is only good for reinforcing critique. It is hard to think other than the Court, in the name of general prevention, wanted to set an example for other judges to frighten them away from expressing their deliberated views” – said Szabolcs Hegyi of the HCLU.

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