Justice

Over 800 dossiers originating from the former Bureau of History are displayed in the room. Some of them contain copies of material relating to political trials, indictments, sentences, appeals, records of investigations from the period 1945-1956. The walls are lined with similar material, as are the benches and the judge's chair. The niche with its velvet-covered chair and telephone symbolizes the practice of arbitrary jurisprudence, insulting the principle of separation of powers and contrary to a constitutional state's prerequisite of judicial independence. The monitor shows a close on one-hour long propaganda film made in 1958 about the Imre Nagy trial.

In accordance with the stipulations of the winning powers from the Second World War, people´s courts were also set up in Hungary. Their responsibility was to call to task those who committed war crimes as well as crimes against the people. The proceedings of the people´s court however provided an opportunity through the use of the justice system for the establishing Soviet power to get rid of social and political enemies standing in the way of Communism.

For this, the abolishment of the independence of judges was necessary. More than 1000 judges were dismissed and quickly trained party servants were moved into their place. They organized dozens of show trials (Hungarian Community trial, the MAORT trial, Nitrokémia trial etc.)

Equality before the law came to an end and a class-based judicial system replaced it. This meant that the court considered the background and origins of the accused, or as how they referred to it ˝class-affiliation˝ as aggravating circumstances. By the same token, kulaks, members of the bourgeoisie and aristocracy received much more serious sentences for the same activities as poor peasants or workers.  This type of administration of justice had a crucial role in destruction of the Hungarian land-owning peasantry.  The so-called kulak trials affected around 300,000 people.  They stripped them of their belongings, freedom, in many cases their lives, and in all cases their honor. 

The Hungarian justice system also adopted the Soviet legal principle, which terminated the presumption of innocence and made it possible for indeterminate facts to be considered in the decision.   Instead of proof, they were satisfied, in many cases, with a forced ˝confession.˝ The accuser did not have to prove the guilt of the defendant, but the accused had to prove his or her innocence.  The law no longer protected the citizens; it turned against them.

In 1950, the independence of the courts was formally terminated.  The Supreme Court was placed under the supervision of the Minister of Justice (Law IV of 1950). Often, serious rulings, sometimes sentences for 10 years, were handed down not based on laws, but rather government decrees, (No. 2560/1949).  Soldiers who tried to escape abroad, where sentenced to death based on secret, that is to say unpublished regulations. To violate the compulsory obligation of reporting, family members could be put in prison (Law XXVI of 1950.).

During these years, more than 35,000 people sat in jail and at least that many were waiting for their prison sentence. 

In 1953, Imre Nagy opened the doors of the internment camps and granted general pardons to more than 15,000 people.  However, for rehabilitation and remuneration, this was only given to 474 convicted from the workers movement.

Between 1945 and 1956, roughly 400 people were executed for political reasons and nearly every third adult was undergoing public proceedings. For the 1956 Revolution and freedom fight, the Kádár regime took exceptionally brutal revenge. He introduced summary jurisdiction or martial law (Law XXVII of 1956), which led to 152 death sentences in one year. The minimum age for the death penalty was lowered to the age of 16. On the basis of this law, Tibor Vágó handed down a death sentence to the young Péter Mansfeld, who was executed. 

The people´s courts never restricted the increase in severity of the verdicts.  Twenty-one death sentences were pronounced in cases where the accused had received a more moderate sentence and was requesting total acquittal, and the persecution had never asked for an increase in severity. Concerning the sentences, the judge agreed on a so-called coordination committee in which the local district party secretary, the head of the police and the president of the court and its chief prosecutor participated.  For 12 days of freedom during the Revolution, more than 15,000 people were imprisoned and more than 200 were executed.  200,000 people fled the country.

First floor