The Constitutional Court stated that the ruling No. 59.Szk.1163/2017/6/I of the Szombathely District Court is in conflict with the Fundamental Law, therefore the Constitutional Court annulled it. The petitioners of the constitutional complaint painted with colour paint the cracked parts of a pavement segment partly for the purpose of preventing accidents and partly for the purpose of calling the attention of the authority and of the general public to the defects of the pavement surface. The authority of infractions warned the petitioners because of committing a public cleansing misdemeanour. The court proceeding with the case on the basis of the objection made by the petitioners then concluded that the petitioners’ conduct of using other person’s property for the expression of their opinion without the consent of the owner had been dangerous to the society as it had violated the owner’s right of disposal. The petitioners turned to the Constitutional Court against the final ruling of the court. In the petitioners’ opinion, the judicial decision injures their right to the freedom of expression as well as their right to the freedom of artistic creation. The Constitutional Court has found the petition well-founded. All conducts bearing a communicative message and not affecting the object of private property or affecting it with the owner’s consent, and not causing damage to the object of public property shall be covered by the constitutionally protected realm of expressing opinions. The person expressing an opinion share his or her ideas not only by saying words, but also by using images, symbols or by wearing items of clothing. It is the duty of the courts to assess whether the conduct under review is protected by the freedom of expression or it is an act of vandalism. In the present case, the conduct was an act of communication interpretable by the public both according to the subjective intention of the person “expressing the opinion” and according to an objective assessment. The Constitutional Court stated: the court failed to interpret the petitioners’ conduct adequately, and it restricted disproportionately the petitioners’ right to the freedom of expression. The court also failed to take note of the absence of the conduct’s dangerousness to the society. Justices dr. Egon Dienes-Oehm, dr. István Balsai, dr. Imre Juhász, dr. Attila Horváth, dr. Béla Pokol and dr. Mária Szívós attached their dissenting opinions to the decision, while Justices dr. István Stumpf and dr. András Varga Zs. attached concurring reasonings.
On behalf of the Government of Hungary, the minister of justice submitted a motion to the Constitutional Court requesting the interpretation of the Fundamental Law concerning the relation between the Fundamental Law and the law of the European Union. The background of the case is that the European Commission sent an official notice to Hungary – in the framework of an infringement proceeding – in which it explained that according to the Commission’s interpretation the provisions of the Fundamental Law on asylum violate the relevant regulations of the European Union. The particular constitutional issue raised by the petitioner was the relation between the interpretation of the Fundamental Law by an organ of the European Union and the genuine interpretation provided by the Constitutional Court.The Constitutional Court pointed out: Hungary participates in the European Union in the interest of developing the European unity, for the purpose of expanding the freedom, prosperity and security of European nations. The Union law does not fit into the hierarchy of the domestic sources of law; it has been made part of the legal system by a constitutional order incorporated in the Fundamental Law. In most cases the parallel existence of Union law and domestic law does not cause any constitutional dilemma as the two normative systems are based on a common values. However, with regard to the assessment of certain national norms, the Constitutional Court and the European Union may reach different conclusions. Since the Fundamental Law requires compliance with the Union law, as a constitutional obligation, collisions may be resolved by paying respect to constitutional dialogue.However, the genuine interpretation of the Fundamental Law is the duty of the Constitutional Court and all organs or institutions shall respect it in their own procedures. The Constitutional Court has committed itself to constitutional dialogue: in the present case it interpreted the Fundamental Law in line with the so called Europe-friendliness by interpreting the content of the norm to also comply with the law of the European Union.Regarding asylum, the Constitutional Court underlined: the right to asylum is not the refugee’s individual subjective right and it stems from the international treaties undertaken by Hungary. A non-Hungarian national who arrived to the territory of Hungary through any country where he or she was not persecuted or directly threatened with persecution shall have a claim, protected as a fundamental right, to have his or her application assessed by the authority. It is the duty of the Parliament to determine and lay down in a cardinal Act the fundamental rules on granting asylum.Justices dr. Egon Dienes-Oehm, dr. István Stumpf, dr. Mária Szívós and dr. András Varga Zs. attached concurring reasonings, and Justices dr. Ágnes Czine, dr. Imre Juhász, dr. Béla Pokol and dr. László Salamon attached dissenting opinions to the decision.
Constitutional complaint aimed at establishing the lack of conformity with the Fundamental Law and annulling Section 353/A of the Act C of 2012 on the Criminal Code (facilitation and support of illegal immigration)
The Court examined the following: on what grounds may a physical act be regarded as an expression of opinion and whether in this context pouring paint on a monument is to be protected on the basis of the freedom of expression.
The petitioners of the constitutional complaint threw balloons filled with orange paint at the Soviet military memorial located on Szabadság Square in Budapest several times. According to their account, it was an act of raising attention to express their political opinion, namely their negative opinion about the Government’s policy of favouring Russia. The court of first instance established that the petitioners’ act classified as a minor offence of public nuisance. According to the reasoning, the apparently anti-social character of the petitioners’ act was at the same time suitable to incite indignation and alarm. The petitioners lodged an appeal to the Budapest-Capital Regional Court that maintained the force of the ruling of first instance. The court agreed that the political opinion can be expressed by means other than verbal ones, but at the same time the court also held it absolutely necessary that the target of the act should be clear for the bystanders – an element missing in the present case.
The Constitutional Court reinforced: the citizens participate in public debates in many ways – not only in written or oral forms. The Fundamental Law protects the passing on of political opinions to others — disregarding the form of its manifestation. It is important to assess, however, whether or not a certain act falls into the scope of the freedom of expression. The Constitutional Court pointed out – taking also into account the case law of the Supreme Court of the United States and of the European Court of Human Rights – that in order to consider an act as an expression of opinion, the perpetrator’s intention of acting for the purpose of expressing his or her opinion is a necessary but not sufficient condition. The act under review should also be a communication, which is interpretable by the public.
It is a special feature of monuments that they express in physical form their message addressed to the community. Monuments can be covered, unveiled, enwreathed etc. Negative opinions, protests about a monument may also take a physical form. Blemishing a monument, e.g. pouring removable paint on it may, under certain circumstances, fall into the scope of expressing opinion in public affairs, but only if the act is a communication interpretable by the public in line with the subjective intention of the person “expressing his or her opinion” and also according to objective evaluation. Even in such a case it should be assessed in the concrete case whether the freedom of expression or the protection of public order should enjoy priority.
As underlined by the Constitutional Court in this case: the interpretation of the law provided by the court of second instance, i.e. that the aspects of the freedom of expression are only applicable under certain conditions to the case of pouring paint on a statue, is compatible with the Fundamental Law. The court did not violate the criteria of constitutionality when it failed to include the concrete act under the scope of the freedom of expression, therefore the Constitutional Court rejected the constitutional complaint.
Judges dr. Ágnes Czine, dr. Imre Juhász, dr. Béla Pokol, dr. Mária Szívós attached dissenting opinions, while Judges dr. Egon Dienes-Oehm, dr. László Salamon, dr. István Stumpf, dr. Marcel Szabó and dr. András Varga Zs. attached concurring opinions to the decision.