Judgment no. Pf.I.20.123/2019/16 of the Debrecen Court of Appeal (1/2020)


Name of the act/s*

Judgment no. Pf.I.20.123/2019/16 of the Debrecen Court of Appeal

Subject area

discrimination on the basis of race, segregation in public education, rule of law

Brief description of the contents of the act

In its final and binding decision no. Pf.I.20.123/2019/16. delivered on 16 September 2019, the Debrecen Court of Appeal concluded that the unlawful segregation of pupils of Roma origin in the Nekcsei Demeter elementary school of Gyöngyöspata had violated their right to equal treatment and thus the students are entitled to compensation. The court emphasized that segregation causes a feeling of humiliation and inferiority, hinders the students in overcoming their sociocultural disadvantages and puts them in a disadvantage in all areas of life.


The case originates in a 2011 report of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities which concluded that pupils of Roma origin in the Nekcsei Demeter elementary school of Gyöngyöspata (Northern Hungary) were unlawfully segregated for years and were provided with lower quality education than their non-Roma peers. Based on the conclusions of this report the Chance for Children Foundation (CFCF) Hungarian human rights NGO launched an actio popularis lawsuit on behalf of the Roma pupils and their families. The case went all the way up to the Kúria (Supreme Court) which found in its 2015 judgment a violation of the prohibition of discrimination and ordered the municipality of Gyöngyöspata (the maintainer of the school at the time) to discontinue segregation.

Given the fact, however, that the impugned discriminatory practices persisted, 62 Roma pupils, with the help of CFCF and pro bono lawyers, launched a lawsuit for damages against the school, the municipal council of Gyöngyöspata and the Klebelsberg School Maintaining Centre for the long-term disadvantages they had suffered as a result of their substandard education. Both the first instance Eger Regional Court (in October 2018) and the second instance Debrecen Court of Appeal (in September 2019) concluded that the pupils’ right to equal treatment had been violated because of their segregation and thus were entitled to a compensation of approximately 300.000 euros in total. The respondents requested an extraordinary review from the Kúria (Supreme Court). The case is still pending.

Since early January 2020, high ranking politicians of the government and the incumbent Fidesz party have questioned the legitimacy of the final and binding court judgment and accused the human rights organizations and lawyers involved in the case of pursuing the political agenda of George Soros (the Hungarian-born American billionaire and philanthrope who is the number one enemy of the Hungarian governing party) to undermine Hungary’s reputation through the charges of segregation. PM Viktor Orbán himself said that the case violated the Hungarian people’s sense of justice. The reaction of the governing majority to the judgment is very concerning for at least the following three reasons. Firstly, leading politicians of the governing party are putting political pressure on the court in a pending case by sending very clear messages about their opinion on the desirable outcome. Secondly, several members of the governing political elite have expressed their opinion that a final and binding judgment should not be respected because it goes against the society’s sense of justice. Thirdly, this political rhetoric only increases the hostility against Roma people and undermines the efforts to eliminate segregation in the Hungarian public education system.

It needs to be mentioned that the Hungarian government has also launched a so-called national consultation on the topic. In the framework of a national consultation campaign, the government mails questionnaires with multiple-choice questions to every citizen. The people are then free to return the questionnaire with their responses to the Office of the Prime Minister. The governing majority often uses the results of these consultation campaigns to justify very controversial legislative measures which go against constitutional and European standards.

Secondary sources/ doctrinal works (if any)

Lilla Farkas: The EU, Segregation and Rule of Law Resilience in Hungary, Verfassungsblog, 8 March 2020, https://verfassungsblog.de/the-eu-segregation-and-rule-of-law-resilience-in-hungary/

András Kádár: European network of legal experts in gender equality and non-discrimination, Flash Report, 7 February 2020, available at: https://www.equalitylaw.eu/downloads/5071-hungary-prime-minister-calls-damages-granted-to-roma-pupils-for-decade-long-segregation-unjust-during-pending-court-case-116-kb

András Kádár: European network of legal experts in gender equality and non-discrimination, Flash Report, 30 September 2019, available at: https://www.equalitylaw.eu/downloads/4957-hungary-second-instance-court-decision-on-damages-for-segregation-in-education-pdf-86-kb

*Act citation /year and number

Judgment no. Pf.I.20.123/2019/16 of the Debrecen Court of Appeal

Enacted by

Debrecen Court of Appeal

Official link to the text of the act