Opening remarks by Mr Róbert Répássy, Deputy Minister of Justice, delivered at the Conference on Delay in Civil Procedure: Responsibility and Cooperation of Parties and Lawyers held at the Hungarian Supreme Court on 26 June 2014. Transcription of the remarks.

The topic ’delay in civil procedure’ is by no means a new one. It has been a subject of discussion and deliberation for scholars and practitioners for a long time. It touches on some of the most fundamental questions related to the essence of justice. Is justice given with delay justice at all, if the damage done has become irreparable in the meantime? The moral and intellectual challenge it represents is such that it has transcended the tight circles of experts and entered literature. One of the most poignant examples is Franz Kafka’s parable Before the Law. Before the Law sits a gatekeeper. To this gatekeeper comes a man, seeking justice, who asks to gain entry into the law. The gatekeeper says that he cannot grant him entry at the moment – the man has to wait. He tries everything, including persuasion, tricks and bribes, but the answer is always no – for the time being. The man sits there, grows old and is dying when he puts the one question he has never asked before to the gatekeeper: ’Everyone strives after the law… so how is it that in these many years no one except me has requested entry?’ The gatekeeper answers: ’Here, no one else can gain entry, since this entrance was assigned only to you. I’m going to close it now.’ Kafka – better than anybody else – captured the collective angst of modern men and women in respect of huge, complex systems like that of justice. Can we do something about it? This conference suggests we can.

We can say that the average performance of the Hungarian civil justice is satisfactory in this regard. The annual report of the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) issued in 2012 reveals that the average disposition time, which determines the number of days that are necessary to resolve a given case pending in first instance courts in Hungary was 160 days. In relation to  the Austrian judicial system, which is well known for its efficiency, the average disposition time in Austria was 129 days. In addition, the World Bank’s annual ’Doing Business’ reports testify that the efficiency of the Hungarian judicial system is not worse than that of other member states of the EU. Even so, delay is still a problem, especially in complex litigation cases and civil procedures carried out by courts in big cities, especially in Budapest. This is best shown by the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, in which the unjustified delay of the Hungarian courts have been considered a breach of the reasonable time requirement under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

We all know that the value of statistics is relative. The same statistics can hide different levels of social satisfaction or malcontent from country to country. The ideal number of unduly delayed procedures is zero in the first place – one case is one too many. Delays can do much harm to public confidence in the system.

The Minister of Justice, Mr László Trócsányi, received the mandate from the Prime Minister to reinforce public confidence in justice. How can this be achieved? The separation of the branches of power with the independence of the judiciary is sacrosanct. They are the cornerstones not only of the Fundamental Law, i.e. the written Constitution of Hungary but also of our ‘historic constitution’, our constitutional identity. The government cannot and must not interfere in any way in court proceedings. On the contrary, the executive branch has to do everything to safeguard and even promote the independence of the judicial branch. But it is also true that these two, with their different sources of legitimacy, share the responsibility for the functioning of the state. Remember: the Strasbourg Court never condemns the judiciary alone, but the State as a whole, represented, for that matter, by the Minister of Justice.

So the government does not interfere, but it does care. It has a vision about justice which should translate into a policy and a relationship with the judiciary. The minister’s mission is to formulate and implement such a policy and relationship.

What should that relationship be like?

The independence of the judiciary does not mean the independence of the judicial system. The independence of the latter – in our view – is relative, due to some of its connections with the rest of the state, such as the state budget. The judicial system is part of society. It reflects and at the same time shapes society. Occasionally, it shares its general rise: think of the magnificent palaces built at the turn of the previous century as court office buildings especially in Budapest and in the larger cities around the country.

The objective is that justice be administered with as much accuracy, fairness and speed as possible. What can the government do? (It is clear enough what it cannot do.) Firstly, it has to be vigilant. The government, the executive branch of power, constantly assesses the case law of the courts, reflects on and reacts to it, if necessary, by adopting or, rather, proposing legislation. This particularly applies to the Supreme Court, always in the focus of attention of the executive branch of power. During the minister’s term in office we are to embark on the elaboration and possibly adoption of the two major codes of civil and criminal procedures and adjust these to21st century requirements. This will provide a golden opportunity to improve the system, eliminate or at least reduce delays. We can rethink, i. a., the rules governing the preparation and the conduct of the procedure by the judge. We are open to reviewing the rules on legal experts on whose performance the speed and outcome of court proceedings depend to a large extent. Apart from legislation, we also have, albeit limited, supervisory tools in our hands.

But we are also aware that not everything can be resolved by normative acts or administrative measures. Culture and ethics play a decisive role: all players and stakeholders are more or less children of the same society. Therefore education, the training of lawyers, remains close to the minister’s heart: a significant element of his work programme will be to explore the ways of raising the quality of the training of lawyers.

Our procedures and culture are in many ways still rooted in the 20th century or even in a more distant past, in legal traditions we are rightly proud of. We do not suggest giving up our old principles and ideals. The winning formula is this: let us be faithful to our values and innovative in our solutions. To rise to the new challenges of the electronic revolution, and of an increasingly integrated and globalized economic and legal environment, we all have to combine our resources and efforts. The Minister of Justice can only carry out his mandate successfully if he can count on the advice and support of those who work in the judicial system. Therefore his attitude will be that of dialogue, open doors, ears, mind and heart. Such mentality is hopefully reflected in the new structure of the ministry with the newly established State Secretariat for Contacts with the Judiciary.

(Ministry of Justice)