a) Hungary / b) Constitutional Court / c) / d) 14-01-1994 / e) 2/1994 / f) / g) Magyar Közlöny (Official Gazette), 4/1994 / h) .
Keywords of the Systematic Thesaurus:
Constitutional Justice - Jurisdiction - The subject of review - Laws and other rules having the force of law - Laws and other rules in force before the entry into force of the Constitution.
Constitutional Justice - Effects - Temporal effect - Limitation on retrospective effect.
Sources - Categories - Written rules - International instruments.
General Principles - Certainty of the law.
General Principles - Nullum crimen, nulla poena sine lege.
Fundamental Rights - Civil and political rights - Non-retrospective effect of law - Criminal law.
Keywords of the alphabetical index:
War crime / Crime against humanity.
The legal regulation subject to judicial review in this case forms a peculiar part of the Hungarian legal system. The armistice agreement between Hungary and the allied powers was signed in Moscow on 20 January 1945. On 25 January 1945, the Provisional Hungarian Government issued a decree on the establishment of the so-called People's Courts. The decree, and its subsequent amendment, was promulgated as a Law on 16 September 1945 by Act 7 of 1945. The task of the People's Courts was to adjudicate upon war crimes. They were abolished in 1950, but several provisions of the relevant regulation remained in force. After the transition, a Standing Committee of the Hungarian Parliament and a Member of Parliament challenged the constitutionality of the regulations still in force.
The Constitutional Court, in the above-mentioned decision, declared several provisions of the Law on People's Courts to be unconstitutional (namely Section 11, 1-4, 11.6, and Section 13.1, 13.3-7). According to the Court, these provisions constitute retroactive criminal legislation, violating the principle of nullum crimen sine lege and nulla poena sine lege. The prohibition of retroactive penal legislation had already been emphasised in a former decision of the Constitutional Court (no. 11 of 5 March 1992) which stressed that conviction and punishment can only proceed pursuant to a law that was in effect at the time when the offence was committed. The reasoning underlines that the remaining provisions of the Law on People's Courts constitute criminal legislation with retroactive effect. The Court also emphasised that, following the Second World War, Hungary entered into international obligations to prosecute war criminals and that the realisation of this obligation by retroactive punishment was the sovereign decision of the Hungarian State. The behaviour now considered criminal under the invalidated provisions of the Law on People's Courts does not constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity according to international law (as defined in the Statute of the Nurnberg International Military Tribunal).
The decision of the Constitutional Court does not affect sentences delivered with final effect before 23 October 1989. In a former decision (no. 10 of 25 February 1992) the Court had elaborated its philosophy on the effects of its decisions on particular penal sentences. The Court emphasised the importance of the certainty and predictability of the law. The consequences of the unconstitutionality of a law must primarily be evaluated by reference to its impact on legal certainty. This became the guiding principle for determining the temporal effects of a decision declaring a law unconstitutional, and especially its repercussions on particular legal relationships and sentences arising from it. The Constitutional Court cannot declare a law to be materially unconstitutional during the period before the promulgation of the new Constitution. Similarly, the Constitutional Court concluded that it is not reasonable to annul sentences delivered before the enactment of the new Constitution. Since the classic principles of criminal law became part of the Hungarian Constitution on 23 October 1989, the provisions of the Law on People's Courts became unconstitutional only on that day. The Constitutional Court, taking into consideration the fundamental principle of legal certainty, ordered the review only of sentences delivered subsequent to the promulgation of the new Constitution. The Constitutional Court's judgment does not examine the merits of other sentences based on the unconstitutional provisions of the Law on People's Courts.