Constitutional Court Undermines Legal Status of Hungarians with Disabilities

27 April 2010, Budapest, Hungary. Yesterday the Hungarian Constitutional Court shattered hopes that Hungary would reform its guardianship laws, jeopardizing the rights of 80,000 people with disabilities under guardianship.

It will be of considerable alarm and concern for the international community that in its first judgment after Sunday’s landslide victory by the Fidesz party in Hungary’s general election, the Constitutional Court has undermined the legal status of one of the most vulnerable groups in Hungarian society, namely people with disabilities stripped of their legal capacity.

By an eight to one majority, the Hungarian Constitutional Court has scuppered reforms which would have introduced human rights-compliant law reform for people with disabilities, by declaring as unconstitutional a parliamentary Act confirming 1 May 2010 as the date on which Book 1 and 2 of the Civil Code would enter into force. Book 2 contained a wealth of reforms relevant to persons with disabilities, including the abolition of plenary guardianship and the introduction of supported decision-making and advance directives. These are cornerstone obligations under Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which Hungary ratified in July 2007. These provisions will now not enter into force.

Since November 2009 many people under guardianship have been preparing for their legal status to change qualitatively on 1 May 2010. On this date the legal status of people under plenary guardianship would have transformed into a joint decision-making arrangement between them and their guardian. This is not a trivial change. It would have enhanced the self-determination and autonomy of persons with disabilities, concepts which are listed as key principles of the CRPD. In ruling that five months is insufficient time for judges and officials to read and understand a new law, the Constitutional Court has brought into question legal certainty as a fundamental element of the rule of law for those people whose rights are affected.

By appearing to heed the concerns of bureaucrats over the will of Parliament, and failing to consider the opinions of those whose rights are affected by the law reform, the Constitutional Court’s approach can be seen to undermine parliamentary sovereignty itself.

Incoming government scraps reforms

MDAC is equally dismayed with press reports today that the incoming government will scrap these guardianship reforms and work with its preferred expert lawyers to draft a text. Many highly respected members of the Hungarian legal community were involved in drafting the reforms which resulted in the Civil Code, and in their openness to civil society participation took another step in democratising Hungarian society and political institutions. MDAC takes this opportunity to remind the incoming government of its legal obligations under Article 4(3) of the CRPD to enact human-rights compliant laws with the full inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities and their respective organisations.

The international community has already celebrated Hungary’s leadership in being the first European State to ratify the CRPD, and its legal capacity law reforms have been watched closely and recognised by the United Nations and other bodies. The reversal of these commitments by the incoming government will completely undermine the leadership role that Hungary has played in the international human rights community.


The Hungarian Parliament adopted the Civil Code in September and after minor changes again in November 2009. Civil society organisations worked in a coalition to develop and contribute to the ideas in Book 2. At that time, MDAC and the global disability rights movement celebrated the reforms as an advancement of human rights.

On 2 March 2010 the President signed the Act which specified that books 1 and 2 of the Civil Code would enter into force on 1 May 2010.

On 5 March 2010, during a general election campaign period, Robert Répássy, Member of Parliament from the political party Fidesz, petitioned the Constitutional Court to declare the entry into force Act as unconstitutional. Fidesz is the political party which was formerly in opposition, and whose Members of Parliament voted against the Civil Code in November 2009. The Fidesz party won a landslide victory in the general election, the second round of which was held on 25 April 2010.

In his petition to the Constitutional Court, Mr Répássy argued that five months between the adoption of the law and its entry on 1 May 2010 is too short to allow those responsible for implementing the law to be properly trained. He also argued that different books entering into force on different dates would cause confusion. MDAC believes Mr Répássy’s petition was a political attempt to delay the entry into force of the Civil Code, to allow the incoming government to demolish the reforms and substitute them with their own version.

Reaction by NGOs

Four days after Mr Répássy submitted his petition, the Hungarian Association of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities together with the Mental Disability Advocacy Center, supported by other eight nongovernmental organisations which together represent the nearly one million Hungarians with disabilities, submitted a counter-petition to the Constitutional Court. The NGOs’ petition pointed out that (1) five months is plenty of time for judges to read and prepare to implement a new law which contains 115 articles; (2) the new Civil Code has been debated and drafted over a much longer period of time; (3) no new apparatus needs to be put in place in 2010 as a gradual implementation is envisioned; and (4) no more resources are needed to implement the law, as they have already been budgeted.

What can you do?

The Hungarian version of the judgment can be found here. MDAC will translate the judgment and upload it to its website as soon as possible. MDAC is monitoring the situation and digesting information on a daily basis and will develop advocacy strategies on how to move forward. Please contact to register your interest in being part of this movement.

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