Hungary took a step forward to case law

In December 2019 the Hungarian Parliament adopted a law resulting in that all Supreme Court rulings become precedents.

Case law is established by following decisions made by judges in earlier cases (i.e. precedents) and it is commonly used in the Anglo-Saxon countries. On the contrary, civil law, which is originating in Europe, proceeds from abstractions, formulates general principles, and distinguishes substantive rules from procedural rules. In this system a Hungarian judge, for example, is not bound by any previous supreme-court decision in a similar case.

However, under the new rule, the published decisions of the Supreme Court will have a more pronounced role in the Hungarian jurisprudence: the court may derogate from them only in exceptional cases, it must provide specific reasons for the derogation, and the derogation itself provides an opportunity to challenge the judgment before the Supreme Court. Moreover, if a judge decides to derogate from a previously published decision, there will be a separate remedy against that decision.

The above amendment to the law may bring Hungarian jurisprudence closer to case law, however, also raises some questions and concerns. For instance, it seems crucial to set up an up-to-date system that allows searching effectively among the published rulings. Other notable concern is that some of the published Supreme Court rulings are likely to contradict each other.

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