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Commissioner for Fundamental Rights Takes Stand on Prisoners’ Contacts by Phone

The current regulation on prisoners’ contacts by phone – exclusive of the extraordinary rules introduced due to the coronavirus situation –, hence especially the bail payable for possessing a device and the reference tariff rates, may cause an infringement of the fundamental right to respect for privacy and family life, Ombudsman Dr. Ákos Kozma established during his comprehensive ex-officio inquiry.

A private person currently detained in prison turned to the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights in connection with the detention conditions, and expressed his concerns regarding (among others) the high tariffs of mobile phones available within the penitentiary institutions.

In his report on Case No. AJB-2236/2021, Dr. Ákos Kozma established that the current regulation on prisoners’ contacts by phone – exclusive of the extraordinary rules introduced due to the coronavirus situation –, hence especially the bail payable for possessing a device and the reference tariff rates, is altogether capable of causing an unnecessary and disproportionate violation of the fundamental right to respect for privacy and family life, thus causing an impropriety in relation to the right to privacy laid down in Article VI of the Fundamental Law. This is also contrary to one of the main objectives of the penitentiary system, namely that following their release, convicted persons could reintegrate into society. Moreover, in consideration of the fact that the use of the telephone also affects the possibility to keep in touch with the defence lawyer, its current regulation is altogether capable of causing an infringement of the fundamental right of defence during criminal proceedings. Furthermore, the Ombudsman pointed out that under the ordinary legal order, keeping contacts electronically is not an option for all of the detainees.

The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights asked the National Commander of the Hungarian Prison Service that in cooperation with the penitentiary institutions and the service providers concerned, and, if necessary, with the involvement of the Ministry for Innovation and Technology, he begin talks about the reduction of the tariffs of mobile phone calls and calls through social media platforms. The Commissioner also initiated the elaboration of such internal regulations that would guarantee the enforcement of the right to privacy and family life as well as to defence as fully as possible also for those detainees who struggle with financial difficulties. Furthermore, he also made a proposal regarding the maintenance and broadening of communication possibilities via the Internet for all detainees.

For the report, please click on the following link: AJB-2236/2021.