Németh said most people are rightfully incensed by the acquittal and the suspended sentence. Fidesz respects the “liberal requirement of judicial independence” but it also wants to enforce the democratic requirements of transparency and accountability, he added.

The committee debate is necessary to determine what is happening in Hungary’s judiciary, he said.

How could a “corrupt Socialist politician” get away with it, and why was nobody responsible for the ten deaths caused by the sludge flood? Fidesz MPs will discuss these questions and then they could be brought before the justice committee, Németh said.

He was referring to a court ruling last week that saw the acquittal of all 15 suspects over Hungary’s 2010 red sludge disaster. In the country’s worst environmental disaster a million cubic metres of toxic red sludge escaped from the reservoir of the Mal company’s alumina plant, flooding the nearby villages of Kolontár and Somlóvásárhely, and the town of Devecser.

The toxic spill killed ten people, injured over 200, destroyed 358 homes, wiped out all life in two small rivers and polluted over 1,000 hectares.

The court based its ruling on a lack of criminal activities, and acquitted the defendants of charges of carelessness and causing public hazard, harming the environment and violating rules of waste management. The court also established that the toxic spill had been caused by a “loss of stability” in the soil under the dams of the red sludge reservoir.

Construction of the reservoir without a proper foundation was to blame, the court said, referring to a professional report, adding that the reservoir had been a “bomb ticking”. The court established the reservoirs had lacked an appropriate monitoring system, but even with one the disaster could not have been prevented. The reservoir had not contained more waste than permitted.

DarakPeterBefore the ruling was read out, a radical nationalist Jobbik deputy held up a sign: “Ten lives are worth so little.” (pictured at left, top). Lajos Kepli was ejected from the court. Kepli, who had headed a parliamentary investigation into the sludge spill, told reporters afterwards that he found the ruling “appalling”.

He said his committee had earlier established that leaders of the alumina plant were “clearly” responsible for amassing “so much sludge” in the reservoir. “There isn’t a country in the world where they would not find the people responsible for such a disaster,” Kepli said.

The ruling Fidesz party said it was “shocked” by the ruling. Németh said it was “unacceptable that no one is held responsible in a case like this”. He said the government respects the ruling but asked the prosecution to appeal, insisting that it is possible to determine who was responsible for the disaster.

The green opposition LMP party said Hungary’s rules were not up to the task of preventing or managing environmental disasters, and called for legal changes as well as demanding that people responsible should be held to account. LMP’s Benedek R. Sallai, who also heads Parliament’s sustainable development committee, urged Parliament to pass his party’s mandatory environmental liability proposal into law.

The Dialogue for Hungary (PM) party criticised the acquittal ruling and said it seemed there was “no political will” to find the real culprits. Benedek Jávor, the party’s MEP, said the real solution would be to enact a Europe-wide law for handling industrial activities that have great environmental risks.

The other case with which Fidesz has an issue is that of Budapest’s former Socialist deputy mayor Miklós Hagyó. A court in south-eastern Hungary handed him a two-year prison term, suspended for four years, on charges of instigation to embezzlement. Five other defendants out of a total 15 in the case, initiated under suspicion of major corruption, were similarly sentenced to suspended prison terms of various length.

Hagyó, together with Zsolt Balogh, another defendant, was also sentenced to pay 39.6 million forints in compensation to municipal public transport company BKV. The former deputy mayor, however, was acquitted of charges of receiving a bribe of 30 million forints. According to the ruling, in some of the cases in which the prosecution cited corruption, this could not be established, even if “winners in some tenders had been selected on a basis of acquaintanceship”.

Hagyó was originally accused of running a criminal gang and causing huge damages to BKV in the years before August 2008. The prosecution appealed the decision.

In a statement released after Németh’s statements, Socialist MP Gergely Bárándy said his party had told Fidesz to “get off the independent judiciary” and instead sack the person “most responsible for trials that have run aground”: Péter Polt, the chief public prosecutor. Neither the courts nor the law bear the responsibility for the failure of conceptual trials of prosecutors acting on the political orders of Fidesz, Bárándy added.

The Socialist Party said Fidesz is organising “show trials” reminiscent of methods used in Hungary’s “darkest dictatorship” to increase its popularity. Bárándy, also the Socialist deputy head of Parliament’s legislative committee, said the fact that the former Socialist deputy mayor of Budapest was given a two-year prison sentence, suspended for four years, revealed that charges against Hagyó “were based on lies” and he “never received bribes”.

The statements about initiating political debate about court rulings prompted response from top judicial officials as well. Hungary’s chief judge warned of the dangers of politicians pressuring the courts if they do not like a ruling. Péter Darák (pictured right) – the head of the Kúria, Hungary’s supreme court – said on Monday that external pressure on the judiciary endangers constitutionality.

“Judges must be able to rule freely and without bias, and calling them to account … goes against the spirit of the Constitution,” he said. “Society must accept this but eligible persons can express their disagreement by requesting legal remedy. The principle of a judicial ruling free of all external influence is absolutely protected by the Constitution, and all statements that suggest an opposite expectation undermine the basis of constitutionality.”

The publicity and transparency of judges’ power does not mean that judges and judicial leaders can be called to account in ongoing cases, Darák said.

The head of the National Judicial Office called on “representatives of the other branches of state power to respect the independence of judges”. Tünde Handó (pictured bottom) referred on Tuesday to critical remarks concerning the recent rulings. The criticism indicates that the concepts of independence and judges’ responsibility may not be evident, therefore the courts should consider feedback and make their workings more understandable, she said.

Handó quoted the Constitution as stating that judges shall be independent, subordinated solely to the law, and shall not be instructed when making decisions. “Pressure cannot be put on the courts,” she said.

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