Protected Areas, Constitutional, Land Use

The petitioner requested constitutional review of a law regulating land ownership of protected areas. He specifically sought the annulment of section 13(7)(4) of Act II of 1993 on Land Reallocation and Land Distribution Committees which he claimed violated Article 18 of the Constitution of Hungary ensuring the right to a healthy environment.

Section 13(7)(4) repealed former section 19 which provided that protected areas are to be transferred to state ownership and to be managed by environmental protection authorities. This degree of environmental protection has been reduced through the amendment which allows the transfer of such areas into private ownership and the management through cooperatives allegedly leading to the destruction of natural treasures.

The Court decided in favour of the petitioner arguing that the right to a healthy environment is dependent on institutional protection of the environment and once certain standards of protection were established by the State, these could not be lowered unless it is justifiable in light of other constitutional rights.

The decrease of environmental protection in this case could only be justified if the State simultaneously provided more severe restrictions on private land use. However, no such legal restrictions were passed.

Two judges dissented arguing that Article 18 of the Constitution only required the State to maintain a level of protection defined by national as well as international legal standards, but did not require it to maintain a certain degree of protection which the State accepted and enforced voluntarily in the past.

In a majority vote, however, the Court granted the petition and called upon the legislature to ensure that provisions comply with Article 18 of the Constitution.