- Associated Press - Friday, March 1, 2019

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) - Conflicts in Hungary’s judicial system endanger its credibility and impartiality, the head of an international corruption watchdog said Friday.

Marin Mrcela, chairman of the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption, known as GRECO, said that lack of cooperation between Hungary’s National Judiciary Office and the National Judicial Council was “troublesome.”

The Judiciary Office - which oversees the courts system - is headed by Tunde Hando, considered an ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Her decisions can be challenged by the Judicial Council, which includes 15 judges chosen by their peers, although it now has only 11 members after several members and reserves resigned last year.

“This issue is of concern for us and … non-cooperation between those two bodies ruins the credibility of the judiciary as a whole,” Mrcela said in an interview with The Associated Press, noting that a “stalemate” in the judiciary could cause it to “not be perceived as credible and impartial.”

Conflicts over the nomination and promotion of judges, for example, have dogged Hungary’s legal system for years.

The Orban government has also come under fire repeatedly for moves seen as limiting the effectiveness and independence of courts, such as lowering the retirement age of judges and curbing the powers of the Constitutional Court to review legislation.

Mrcela, who is also vice president of the Supreme Court of Croatia, said that the current conflicts between Hando’s office and the judicial council could lead to judges feeling “uncertain … about their position and their possibility to work in a specific court” and that cooperation between the two was needed “to have credible and trustworthy institutions.”

Mrcela was in Hungary leading a GRECO delegation gathering information as part of an on-going non-compliance procedure against Hungary “because of insufficient measures taken to prevent corruption.” The visit focused on corruption prevention regarding members of parliament, judges and prosecutors.

Hungary’s Justice Ministry did not reply to a request for comment.

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