Possibility for Effective Civil Control of the Police

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) has welcomed the proposed bill on amendments of the Act on Police which, if accepted could establish the Independent Police Complaint Body (Body). If formed, the Body could play an important role in the strengthening of civic control of the police, but human rights organizations warn: it is absolutely necessary that the Body consists of such persons whom, due to their expertise and independence from law enforcement organizations guarantee the effective functioning of the complaint-mechanism.

On May 3rd, 2007 the government submitted draft no.:T/2916, the amendment on Act of Police XXXIV. of 1994. The draft which disposes of the establishmet of the Body has to be accepted by two thirds of the members of parliament. According to the draft, the five-member Body would have a broad range of authority to check on police measures which concern citizens’ fundamental rights. Acting upon their examinations, the Body makes a recommendation to the police commissioner authorized to consider the complaint, who can detour from the recommendation only in a grounded resolution. The Body will make public the anonymous commendation on the internet. Complaints which do not concern fundamental rights will be examined in the accustomed manner, however the draft widens the range of complainable measures and makes the process free of charge.

According to the HHC and the HCLU the reform of police complaint-machanism is long overdue, since experience indicates that the current system does not offer effective legal remedies. During the almost decade long activities of the HHC and the HCLU, the police organizations examining the complaints have never adjudged a complaint, not even in cases where later the court has found that the objectionable measure was an act of crime. Data provided by the National Police Headquarters to the HHC and the HCLU show that in 2006 more than 7000 complaints were reviewed, of which only 13% were found to be valid. Compared to the 3 million police measures, it is clear that citizens do not utilize the complaint-mechanism, which is due to non-efficient information and a lack of trust in the system.

The draft carries the possible remedy to both problems. The establishment of the Body could strengthen public awareness and if the Body operates suitably, it could also strengthen the faith of the citizens in the system. This, in due course could contribute to a more active stance against derogatory police measures, could strenghten civil contol over the police and through this, police action could become more transparent and more democratic.
The HHC and the HCLU welcome the initiative of the amendment of the Act, but at the same time warn: the effective functioning of the Body depends mainly on it’s members. The HHC and the HCLU believe it is important that independent, expert members be chosen to the Body and that consultation (regulated by draft) with civil organizations not just be a formality.

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