Contributor(s)Hungarian Helsinki Committee

Contact with the outside world

Before visiting prisoners, family members must first obtain a permit from the prison governor. Up to two adults and two children under 14 years of age may visit a prisoner at the same time.   

Prisoners are entitled to one family visit per month, usually lasting between 60 and 90 minutes. Some prisons allow more than this prescribed minimum, awarding additional visits to prisoners for good behavior. This minimum standard is considered too low for prisoners to maintain a private and family life, especially pre-trial detainees.   

Many prisoners has been transferred across the country as part of a ‘balancing program’ to combat prison overcrowding. The negative side effect of this redistribution of prisoners is the frequency of family visits for prisoners further separated from loved ones. There are no conjugal visits under the Hungarian law.

In several juvenile reformatories, only one visit is allowed per month and a second visit granted only as an extra reward. In some reformatories physical contact with visitors is not allowed during visits.

Prisoners are generally able to apply for parole after serving a proportion of their sentence. The proportion served prior to parole eligibility varies between 50% and 75% of the sentence, depending on circumstances and the original sentence. Repeat offenders and prisoners who committed offenses within the framework of a criminal organization are not eligible for parole.

Following the pilot judgment of the ECHR in 2015 Varga and others v.Hungary, Hungary has been instructed to prison overcrowding by increasing non-custodial sentencing and minimizing pre-trial detention. As of July 2015, 138 prisoners had their applications for non-custodial sentencing acknowledged. These prisoners remain in detention, their application to be decided in court at a future date. Several thousands of cases are still pending.

Prison rules are made available to all prisoners with a copy in each cell. Laws and legal information must also be made available in the prison library either printed or electronically.

There are no lawyers inside prisons and prisoners rely on their external lawyers for detention related issues.

The quality of ‘ex officio’ (public) defense lawyers is believed to be worse than private representation. This is partly attributed to the authorities being free to choose the accused’s appointed lawyer. Some defense lawyers are financially dependent on these police appointments to the extent that it creates a conflict of interest for providing an effective defense.

Interrogations during the investigation can take place even without the presence of a defense lawyer. Lawyers also complain that initial interrogations can take place on very short notice, so that lawyers are unable to attend.

Prisoners have the right to vote unless the court deprives them of this right due to the nature of their crime or their mental condition. Sentenced prisoners are not eligible to stand as candidate in any election.

In 2011, Hungary designated its Ombudsperson’s Office as the NPM. The NPM became operational in January 2015.

NPM functions are carried out by 11 staff members. The Deputy Commissioner for Fundamental Rights nominates one member. At least two members must have backgrounds in medicine, law or psychology. The Commissioner has the additional power to use outside experts in the implementation of the NPM mandate.

The Commissioner has also established a Civil Consultative Body of NGO experts to assist the NPM. This includes eight member organisations, four invited (Hungarian Medical Chamber, the Hungarian Psychiatric Association, the Hungarian Dietetic Association and the Hungarian Bar Association) and four chosen following an application process (Hungarian Helsinki Committee, Menedék – Hungarian Association for Migrants, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and the Mental Disability Advocacy Center).

  • Nemzeti Megelőző Mechanizmus (National preventive Mechanism) Alapvető Jogok Biztosa (Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights) Budapest V. kerület, Nádor utca 22.

Complaints (including the name of the institution where the problems were experienced) may be lodged via:   

Anonymous complaints can also be submitted.

The NPM is considered independent, but according to the HHC it lacks the resources to fulfill its mission.

Hungary has established a range of complaint and monitoring mechanisms. Complaints can be filed in the detention system, with police, the Department of Supervision and the Prosecutor’s Office. The Department of Supervision, while separate from the teams that prosecute criminal offenses, is linked with the prosecuting authority and cannot be considered entirely independent.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC), an independent NGO, has carried out prison monitoring and visits for two decades. The HHC also operates a legal aid service for those who have had their rights violated by law enforcement agencies.