The regulatory framework of the right to peaceful assembly in Hungary was radically reshaped by a new law enacted in October 2018 by the Parliament where the governing party holds a qualified majority enabling it to modify laws in accordance with its political will.
Although the professed reason for the modification was a series of specific deficiencies of the previous legislation, the Parliament introduced an overall reform that considerably transformed the legislative framework.
The new law redefined the concept of “assembly”, thoroughly regulated the notification procedure, introduced new grounds and measures for restrictions and vested the police with broad discretionary powers in the application of these.
The reform clarified some controversial issues not covered by the previous legislation, but failed to remedy some of the deficiencies giving rise to the modification and created new problems hindering the exercise of right to assembly.
Due to the uncertainties built into the regulation, the outcome of the notification process has become less foreseeable, requiring the organisers to be ready to challenge bans and restrictive measures before courts.
Consequently, the judicial review of police resolutions has gained an even greater importance in the protection of this liberty.
The analysis of the new law’s jurisprudence indicates that the established legislative framework as applied by the regulatory authority can hinder the enjoyment of the freedom of peaceful assembly.
In several cases organisers had to turn to courts in order to freely exercise their right or maintain the level of protection enjoyed before the new law came into force. In a lot of other cases, organisers simply accepted the restrictions imposed by the police without seeking judicial review.
Resolutions also reveal that organisers may face severe administrative obstacles both during the notification process and in the court proceeding. Despite these difficulties, citizens are using the possibility to express their opinions in the streets.
In the last three years, citizens have notified the police of more than 3,000 demonstrations in Hungary, where the organizers were expecting more than 1.7 million participants altogether. Furthermore, most courts tend to adjudicate cases in line with the principles of constitutionality and thus maintain a continuity in the jurisprudence.
The present research paper provides a rights-based analysis of the new legislation on assembly in light of the court rulings issued since its entry into force.
The chapters of the research paper reflect the main problems detected in the practical application of the law and the structure of each chapter allows the reader to understand the controversies of the practice of the right to assembly arising in the Hungarian context, the shift in the law and its evaluation on the basis of the international standards, the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights.
Authors of the present collaborative research paper include academics, lawyers of human rights NGOs and attorneys providing representation in individual cases. The research was based on documentary sources, court rulings, and police resolutions published officially or obtained from competent police departments and courts.