Hungarian Criminal Justice System

Hungarian Criminal Justice System

This entry gives a general account of the overall criminal system and outline the political and legal structure and the history of the Hungarian criminal justice system to help account for the unique aspects that may help to bind the many parts of this criminal justice system together, and to show the extent to how this criminal justice system plays in the overall social control of Hungary. The section on crime definitions and statistic provides some basis of “output” of the criminal justice bureaucracies of the country.


1. Political System.
The Hungarian Republic is administratively
divided into 19 counties plus the capital,
Budapest. The political administration is
centralized and has jurisdiction over the local
The Courts are an independent unit consistent
with the theory of the separation of powers. The
Parliament elects the President of the Supreme
Court. The Head of the Justice Department appoints
the Presidents of the individual courts on the
basis of the recommendations of judges working in
those courts.
The Prosecution is a self-contained agency,
independent of the government. The Chief Public
Prosecutor is the head of the centrally-organized
prosecution unit. S/he is elected by Parliament
for a 5-year term and is accountable solely to the
The Police have general investigative powers.

The Prosecution, Customs Police, Border Guards,
and the investigating agency of the army can carry
out investigations in other legally specified
areas. In theory, the head of police is the
National Chief Commissioner of Police, although in
practice it is the Chief’s criminal deputy. The
National Chief Commissioner of Police is
subordinate to the Head of the Department of
Internal Affairs. Local police branches operate
independently of the local governments. The
judicial system is organized according to the 19
administrative counties plus Budapest. Each
has its own court.

2. Legal System.
Hungarian law is derived from the
Roman-Germanic family of law. This helps to
explain the significant codification of the
different branches of law (for instance, criminal
law). Hungarian law bears some similarity to
German-Austrian law, in terms of its criminal law
and criminal proceedings. (Les grands syst‚mes de
droit contemporais, Paris, Dalloz, 1974.)

3. History of Criminal Justice System.
Hungary’s geopolitical position–that is, the
fact that Hungary occupies the Carpathian Basin
and is situated in the middle of Europe–has
determined both its history and the history of its
criminal law. The development of the Hungarian
legal system in the Middle Ages was not
significantly different from the general evolution
of European law. For example, the Hungarian
Constitution issued in 1222, the Golden Bull, had
the same function as the English Magna Carta of
1215. Both documents comprised the basic tenets
of their country’s Constitution, both sought to
assure and consolidate the freedom of their
nation, and both established the rights of the
nobility against their King’s power.
From the beginning of the 18th century,
Hungary was a part of the Hapsburg Empire,
although it abided by its own legal system.
Before the revolution of 1848, Hungary’s legal
system was based on the three-volume book of
common law, compiled and written by Lord Chief
Justice Istv n Werb“czy in 1517. (The Hungarian
translation for the three-volume book of common
law: Triprtitum opus juris consuetudinarii incytit
regni Hungariae per Magistrum Stephanum de
The modern criminal law and justice system of
the country was established in the second half of
the 19th century. The unified state courts and the
Royal Prosecution were started in 1872. The first
criminal law code and the first criminal
proceedings code was contained in the 1878 (Part
V) and the 1896 (Part 33) statutes respectively.
These statutes were in effect, with minor
modifications, until the end of the Second World
War. With the formation of the party-state in
1948, Socialist law ruled. During this period,
Hungary abided by two criminal law codes (the
1961:V and the 1978:IV acts) and three criminal
proceedings codes (1951:III, 1962:8, and 1973:I
Hungary has not drafted a new criminal law
code since 1990. Rather, the existing codes have
been significantly modified to meet the
requirements of the European Human Rights
Convention and the requirements of a
constitutional state.


1. Classification of Crimes.

*Legal classification. Hungarian law
differentiates between felonies and misdemeanors,
depending on the seriousness of the crime.
Felonies are intentional crimes that can result in
sentences of more than 2 years imprisonment. All
other crimes are misdemeanors. All unintentional
crimes (for example, nonintentional homicide) are
misdemeanors. All intentional crimes that have a
penalty of less than 2 years of imprisonment are
Hungarian law also includes civil offenses,
which comprise offenses mainly against public
administration. However some criminal offenses,
such as property crimes involving objects of small
value (under 4000 HUF), are placed in this
category as well. Civil offenses fall under the
jurisdiction of various administrative agencies,
local governments or traffic police, but not the

*Age of criminal responsibility. Persons under 14
years old cannot be held criminally responsible.

*Drug offenses. Drug offenses are dealt with in
the 4th Title of the 16th chapter of the penal
code under section 282 and 282(A) (drug abuse) and
283 (causing pathological addiction). According
to section 283 “…persons who by breaking
official regulations produce, obtain, keep, offer,
hand over, market, import or export drugs” and
carry them through the territory of the country or
sell them within the country are committing a
crime and can be punished by imprisonment for up
to 2 years. The imprisonment is from 2 to 8 years
if the drug-related crime is obviously part of an
ongoing trade in drugs as defined by official
regulations or if the offender is armed or is
charged with using a juvenile or if such a
juvenile receives drugs. The punishment is 5-15
years imprisonment if a significant amount of
drugs are involved or if the growing, production,
obtaining, marketing and selling of drugs is
undertaken within the framework of a criminal
organization. Accordingly, persons who provide
the finances or materials or aid in the
preparation of drugs are also indictable. Two
years’ imprisonment or a fine can be imposed on
persons who possess a small amount of drugs. It is
a misdemeanor to advocate drug use publicly and
can be punished by 2 years imprisonment.
Section 282(A) states that growing,
producing, obtaining and keeping drugs for one’s
own personal use or committing a non-serious
drug-related crime are not indictable, providing
that one can certify by the time the verdict is
passed that one has received treatment for drug
addiction for at least 6 months without
Under the first paragraph of section 282, it
is a crime to sell or use drugs that are defined
by the official regulations laid down in the text
of the law. This official regulation is the
1/1968 (V.12) decree issued by the Department of
Internal Affairs and the Department of Health,
which lists the substances classified as drugs in
Hungary. It was based on the Unified Drugs Treaty
of 1961 and the 1971 treaty involving so-called
psychotropic substances. In addition to more
common drugs (opium, heroin, morphine, cocaine)
this decree lists other basic ingredients of
medicine and dangerous psychotropic materials.
The crime of causing pathological addiction
(Sect. 283) occurs when a person over 18 years old
assists a person under 18 years old in abusing
drugs or tries to persuade him/her to use drugs.
This crime is a felony, punishable by up to 3
years imprisonment.

2. Crime Statistics.
The following crime statistics are taken from
the first and second volumes of the Unified
Criminal Statistics of Police and Prosecution
1992, which are issued by the Data Processing
Office of the Department of Internal Affairs and
the Computer Centre of the Prosecution.
*Murder. In 1992, there were 435 recorded
intentional homicides. Attempts are included.
*Rape. In 1992, there were 738 cases of rape
*Theft. In 1992, there were 91,957 cases of
burglary recorded.
*Drug offenses. In 1992, there were 152
drug-related crimes recorded.
*Crime regions. In 1992, 29.7% of the crime
reported by the public prosecution was committed
in the capital of Budapest. Following Budapest,
the county of Hajdu-Bihar had the highest rate of
crime (546.4 crimes per 10,000 residents). In
particular, Hajdu-Bihar county had the highest
property crime rate among all counties (454.3
crimes per 10,000 residents), although it has
significantly fewer property crimes than some
districts in the capital (for example, there were
1,678.1 property crimes per 10,000 residents in
the 5th district, 1,120.0 in the 8th district, and
876.8 in the 7th district).


1. Groups Most Victimized by Crime.
The most vulnerable age group for homicide
and other violent crimes is between 29 and 59. In
addition, 62.5% of homicide victims are men and
34.6% are women. 69.5% of the victims of bodily
harm are men and 39.5% are women. Infants and
juveniles constitute 46.2% of the victims of
forcible rape. 17.2% of robbery victims are
women. (Gorgenyi, 1992).
Further research on the victimization of
children in families revealed that 48.8% of all
victims were boys and 51.2% girls. About 30% of
all victims were Gypsies. No other information on
the ethnic origin of the victims was available.
(Kerezsi, 1991).

2. Victims’ Assistance Agencies.
The international fund for victims’
assistance, the “White Ring”, has recently begun
operations in Hungary. The Hungarian branch is
ESZTER, and is aimed at assisting the female
victims of forcible rape.

3. Role of Victim in Prosecution and Sentencing.
Essentially, the victim has a two-fold role
in the prosecution and sentencing processes.
First, the victim can initiate criminal
proceedings by filing a report with the police.
Second, the victim’s testimony can be used as
evidence for the court to consider when
establishing a statement of facts.
The victim has the right to provide
information against persons, to take part in the
court procedures, and to initiate the asking of
questions at the trial. In the case of certain
crimes victims can act as private prosecutors. In
addition, the victim is allowed the opportunity to
make civil law claims during the criminal

4. Victims’ Rights Legislation.
Information not obtained.


1. Administration and Organization.
The centralized state-police force of the
Hungarian republic operates under a strictly
hierarchical system that runs parallel to the
military hierarchy. At the top of the hierarchy
is the National Police Administration (NPA) whose
head is the Chief Police Commissioner, with a
rank of Police General. The NPA has two chief
administrative sections: criminal and public
security. The directors of these sections are
deputies of the Chief Police Commissioner. The
following central executive agencies are directly
subordinate to the NPA: Economic and Information
Chief Administration, the Republic Guards, the
Police Troop Force, the Special Police Service
(anti-terrorist service), the Airport Security
Service, the Special Service against Organized
Crime and Drugs, and the Economic Crimes Police.
There are 19 county police organizations plus
the Budapest police headquarters, each of which is
directed by a police commissioner. There are 198
provincial police stations which function as
subordinates to the territorial police
headquarters. Each of these provincial stations is
directed by a police superintendent.

2. Resources.

*Expenditures. The annual expenditure on policing
was 36 billion forints for 1993. Approximately 75%
of expenditures is allocated toward wages,
material accounts for the other 25%.

*Number of Police. In 1990, 45,399 people were
employed by police organizations, of which 29,727
were uniformed police officers and 25,672 worked
in plain clothes. The number of men in the police
force was 34,140; the number of women, 11,259.
As of 1993, there were 24,000 uniformed
police working in traffic and public security
forces. The criminal police forces employ about
8,000 persons (detectives, investigators, criminal

3. Technology.

*Availability of police automobiles. The ratio of
police to automobiles is 9:1.

*Electronic equipment. The police have the use of
a unified computer-aided dispatch system and a
radio communications system.

*Weapons. On-duty police officers carry a baton,
gun and radio as basic equipment. Officers on
special deployment missions may also use
bulletproof vests, combat helmets and machine

4. Training and Qualifications.
There are three educational levels in
Hungary: elementary school, secondary school, and
university or college. Two years of secondary
school training is needed to become a police
officer. In addition to secondary school
training, 3 years (6 semesters) of college
training is required to become a police officer of
a higher rank.

5. Discretion.

*Use of force. Police may use force with advanced
warning. Force can be used against people who
resist the police. Police may use their weapons
in order to prevent a serious crime from
occurring, to catch a person who is suspected of
having committed a serious crime, or to protect
their lives, corporal integrity, or personal
freedom from an attack or from threatening

*Stop/apprehend a suspect. The police can
initiate criminal proceedings if they have a
well-founded suspicion that a crime has been

*Decision to arrest. The Police can hold persons
in custody if the criminal act is witnessed, if
their identity cannot be established, if there are
conditions requiring pretrial incarceration, or if
the court has ordered them to be arrested and put
into custody. There are no legal alternatives to

*Search and seizure. The Police can search
persons or property when there are grounds to
believe that the search can lead to the capturing
of a criminal or the procuring of important
information, such as material evidence, about a

*Confessions. Persons cannot be forced to
testify, although suspects are given a chance to
give their testimony. However, persons can be
questioned as witnesses if they have information
necessary to understand the facts of a case.

6. Accountability.
The Police handle citizen or departmental
complaints against officers when the complaints
are likely to result in disciplinary action. The
Prosecution handles the complaint if it is likely
to have criminal repercussions.


1. Rights of the Accused.
*Rights of the accused. The accused has the right
to be questioned and heard by the court. The
court may pass a verdict only after hearing the
plea of the accused. The Hungarian legal system
does not give special treatment to suspects who
plead guilty. Guilty pleas are considered to be
evidence which can be used in decisionmaking about
the case. The accused has the right to remain
silent or to speak in his/her own defense; the
right to learn about the case (for instance, to
examine case documents and to be present at the
trial); the right to make suggestions or comments
in regard to case proceedings; and the right to
have defense counsel present at the criminal
The law determines whether the case will be
heard by a judge or judicial panel, depending on
the seriousness of the crime. The accused has no
influence in this decision. There is no jury
system in Hungary.

*Assistance to the accused. Certain cases require
the accused to have the services of defense
counsel (for example, if the crime is punishable
by more than 5 years imprisonment; the accused has
already been incarcerated; the accused is deaf,
dumb or blind; or if the accused does not speak
Hungarian). The court will appoint a public
defender if the accused cannot afford to hire a
defense attorney or when the court deems it
necessary. The court must inform the accused of
the right to counsel.

2. Procedures.

*Preparatory procedures for bringing a suspect to
trial. Before any public trial, an investigation
is carried out by the Police or an investigating
agency. The private prosecution of a case,
however, usually begins with a formal accusation
in court. An investigation is carried out only if
the court orders it.
An investigating agency can hold the suspect
in custody for 72 hours while the investigation is
being conducted. The suspect can be held for
pretrial incarceration indefinitely but only when
ordered by the court.
The 17th chapter of the Criminal Trial
Procedure regulates summary proceedings. In all
private prosecution cases or, at the suggestion of
the public Prosecutor, the court may reach a case
decision without a proper trial and order the
accused to pay a fine, be suspended from
employment, be deprived of a driving license, or
be expelled from their home. For nonserious
crimes in which the facts of the case are clear,
or the accused pleads guilty, or the aim of
punishment can be reached without having a trial,
the law states that fines or other types of
supplementary punishment can be used. The
presiding court must pass judgement in every case
involving an accusation.

*Official who conducts prosecution. Most cases
are prosecuted by the official Prosecutor. In
cases of non-serious crimes, as enumerated in the
law, the injured party can act as a private

*Alternatives to trial.
Information not obtained.

*Proportion of cases going to trial. The majority
of criminal cases go to trial. There are no
statistics which show the percentage of cases
which involve guilty pleas.

*Pretrial incarceration conditions. The accused
may be kept under pretrial incarceration if he has
committed a crime that is punishable by
imprisonment and: a) has previously escaped or is
likely to escape; b) might upset/prevent
further court proceedings if left at liberty;
c) has committed another crime punishable
by imprisonment while free during the proceedings;
or d) is likely to commit another crime.

*Bail procedure. Bail does not exist in Hungary.

*Proportion of pre-trial offenders incarcerated.
As of December 31, 1992, 4,272 prisoners were
awaiting trial.


1. Administration.
There are three levels of criminal courts
(from lowest to highest): local courts, county
courts, and the Supreme Court.

2. Special Courts.
The Hungarian court system is unified. There
are no special juvenile or military courts.
However, there are councils for juveniles and
military personnel that have jurisdiction in
certain relevant situations.

3. Judges.

*Number of judges. As of October 1993, there were
2,028 official judges in Hungary, of which 96
worked in the Supreme Court, 749 worked in the
county courts, and 1,183 worked in the town
(local) courts.
In 1990, there were 2,233 judges (including
junior judges) of whom 1,425 were women and 808
were men. This ratio has not changed
significantly since that time. No data exists
regarding the ethnic origins of judges.

*Appointments and qualifications. Official judges
are appointed by the President of the Hungarian
Republic and are required to have a university law
degree, have two years of post-graduate studies,
and pass a special judge-prosecutor examination.
The Head of the Justice Department initially
proposes an appointment. Lay assessors (people’s
judges and members of courts of first instance),
are elected.


1. Sentencing Process.

*Who determines a sentence. Either a judge or
judicial panel determines the sentence. Sentences
are determined in session chambers where only
judges may be present.

*Is there a special sentencing hearing.
Information not obtained.

*Which persons have input into the sentencing
Information not obtained.

2. Types of Penalties.

*Range of penalties. The principal punishments
used include deprivation of liberty
(imprisonment), public labor, and fines.
Supplementary punishments include prohibition from
participating in public affairs, prohibition from
driving a motor vehicle, local banishment (a
Hungarian citizen may be banished from a city or
village), expulsion (a foreign citizen may be
expelled from Hungary), confiscation of property,
and fines.
In 1992, 32.2% of criminal convictions
resulted in prison sentences, 0.1% resulted in
public labor, 43.9% resulted in fines (as the sole
principal punishment) and 22.8% resulted in
supplementary punishments being used as the sole
principal punishment.

*Death penalty. In 1990, the Constitution Court
found the death penalty to be unconstitutional
(23/1990 Act X.31). The last execution in Hungary
took place on July 14, 1988.


1. Description.

*Number and type of prisons. There are a total of
33 correctional institutions. There are 14
national prisons, 8 are maximum/medium level
correctional institutions, 5 medium/minimum level
institutions, and 1 juvenile correctional
institution. There are also 2 health institutions
and 17 county institutions. Twelve correctional
institutions run factories.

*Number of prison beds. There are 16,223 prison
beds and 608 beds in health institutions for a
total of 16,831 prison beds.

*Average daily population/number of prisoners. As
of December 31, 1992, the total number of
prisoners was 15,913, of which 15,117 were male
and 796 were female. The daily average number of
prisoners in 1992 was 15,699. Prisoners are not
registered by ethnic origin.

*Number of annual admissions. The number of
annual admissions in 1992 was 18,424.

*Actual or estimated proportions of inmates
Information not obtained.

2. Administration.

*Administration. The National Prison
Administration is the central directing
organization of the Hungarian correctional
institutions. There are two kinds of correctional
institutions: national and county.

*Prison guards. As of October 31, 1993, there
were 6,634 prison staff members, of which 5,314
were guards and 1,320 were civil employees. There
is no information on the gender and ethnicity of
prison guards.

*Training and qualifications. A nonuniformed
employee is required to have an elementary or
secondary education, a noncommanding officer must
have at least a secondary or university education,
and a commanding officer must have a university

*Expenditure on the prison system. The total
expenditure on the prison system per year is 6.7
billion HUF.

3. Prison Conditions.

*Remissions. Remissions are not possible, but
inmates may get time off for good behavior after
serving a certain part of their prison sentence.

*Work/Education. Prisoners are required to work.
While educational and vocational programs are
important parts of daily prison life, prisoners
are not required to attend classes.

*Amenities/Privileges. Prisoners may receive
visitors once a month. As a reward, they may be
allowed to leave the prison for a certain period
of time (for instance, a weekend). Prisoners are
provided individual and group therapy and medical


*Extradition. Criminals and suspects can be
extradited to or from other countries, which
include Bulgaria, the Czech and the Slovak
Republics, Poland, Rumania, the countries of the
Commonwealth of Independent States, United
Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, Cyprus, Greece, Mongolia,
Syria, Algeria, Austria, Egypt, the former
Yugoslavia, Vietnam, Italy, Turkey, Sweden, North
Korea, Cuba, Albania, Belgium, France, and

*Exchange of prisoners. Information not

*Specified conditions. There are no general
conditions that govern the extradition agreements;
they are all specifically bilateral.

Note: this work was completed in 1993


See Also

  • Criminal Justice
  • Legal System
  • Criminology
  • Criminal Justice System

Further Reading

  • Cole, George F., S. J. Frankowski, and M. G. Gertz, (1987) Major Criminal Justice Systems. Beverly Hills: Sage.
  • David, R. and J. E. Brierley (1968) Major Legal Systems of the World Today. London: Free Press.
  • Fairchild, E. (1993), Comparative criminal justice systems. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
  • Feeley, Malcolm M. (1973), “Two models of the criminal justice system”. Law and Society Review, 7(3): 407-425.


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