The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled today that the Hungarian government’s decision to lower the mandatory age of retirement for judges, prosecutors and notaries from the age of 70 to 62 constituted discrimination on the grounds of age (read the decision here).
While recognizing that legitimate social policy objectives can justify a derogation from the prohibition of discriminating on the grounds of age, in this case, the objectives of this measure invoked by the Hungarian government – the need to standardize the age-limits for retirement for public sector employees and to establish a balanced age structure to facilitate access to younger members into the profession – were deemed to be neither necessary nor appropriate in the circumstances. Indeed, in what the Court termed a radical drop in the age of retirement, set to take effect within a very rapid timeframe, the Court noted that no transitional measures had been provided to protect the legitimate expectations of these judges. The Hungarian government did not demonstrate that its national compulsory retirement scheme, giving rise to a difference in treatment based on age, was proportionate to the objectives sought.
It is clear that the way in which the legislation was structured and the extremely short delay within which it was to come into effect influenced the tone and direction of this judgment. The decision comes amidst a number of changes to the Hungarian legal system, which some see as an attack on judicial independance (see a Wall Street Journal article here). Within this same context, we note that another action before this Court was brought in June of this year, in which it is alleged that Hungary failed to fulfil its obligations on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data by removing the data protection supervisor from office before time.