Decision 23/1990 on capital punishment
31 October 1990
Decision number: Decision 23/1990. (X. 31.)
Subject of the case:
Capital punishment is unconstitutional when assessed against a comparative reading of Articles 8.2 and 54.1 of the Constitution. The relevant provisions of the Criminal Code and other related legal rules which permitted capital punishment as a criminal sanction conflicted with the prohibition against any limitation on the essential content of the right to life and to human dignity. From an examination of the Constitution, human life and human dignity form an inseparable unit, having a greater value than other rights; and thus being an indivisible, absolute fundamental right limiting the punitive powers of the State. It is the inherent, inviolable and inalienable fundamental right of every person in Hungary irrespective of citizenship, which the State had a primary responsibility to respect and protect.
Article 8.2 of the Constitution does not permit any limitation upon the essential content of fundamental rights even by way of legislative enactment. Since the right to life and human dignity are itself the «essential content», the State cannot derogate from it. Consequently any deprivation of it is conceptually arbitrary. The State would come into conflict with the whole concept of fundamental constitutional rights if it were to authorise deprivation of the right by permitting and regulating capital punishment. Therefore Article 54.1 of the Constitution cannot be construed as allowing capital punishment even if imposed on the basis of legal proceedings, i.e. non-arbitrarily, since the possibility of any kind of limitation on any basis of the right to life and human dignity is theoretically excluded. Since capital punishment results not merely in a limitation upon that right but in fact the complete and irreversible elimination of life and dignity together with the guarantee thereof, all relevant provisions providing for capital punishment were therefore declared null and void.
Moreover, it follows from the fact that as the sanctions provided for in the Criminal Code constituted a coherent system, the abolition of capital punishment – which previously formed a component of that system – would necessarily result in a complete revision of the entire system. Such a revision, however, is beyond the jurisdiction of the Court.