Allen & Overy Successful in Pro Bono Representation of Roma Children in Hungarian Segregation Claim

Allen & Overy Successful in Pro Bono Representation of Roma Children in Hungarian Segregation Claim

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Balazs Sahin-Toth, Counsel in the Budapest office of Allen & Overy, working pro bono in conjunction with Peter Gardos from Hungary's Gardos Mosonyi Tomori Law Firm and Hungarian solo practitioners Adel Kegye and Eleonora Hernadi, has persuaded the Hungarian Supreme Court to uphold the lower court's decision that the Hungarian segregation of Roma students between 2003 and 2017 provided a lower level of education.

According to a summary provided by Allen & Overy, "despite numbering 600,000 to 800,000 people in Hungary, Roma people still face systemic discrimination and barriers of access to basic services, including medical care and education. Segregation in schools is a particular problem, with some parents and teachers actively seeking to separate Roma children from others, often resulting in the placement of Roma children in special educational needs schools or segregated classrooms."

According to A&O, it and three other law firms "acted for 62 Roma children against a school, the municipality, and the state, arguing that their life chances had been negatively impacted by school segregation. The lawyers interviewed the children and their families and obtained permission to litigate. Having drafted the children’s submissions, they then advocated for the children in over 40 court hearings. Each child and each of their parents were able to testify."

"This is the first time that there has been an attempt to quantify financially what illegal segregation is," Allen & Overy reports. "The team originally claimed HUF 500,000 (approximately GBP 1,300) for every year a child spent in a segregated class. The smallest amount awarded in judgment was HUF 200,000 for half a year in a segregated class, and the most was HUF 3,500,000 for seven years in a segregated class. The damages fluctuated based on whether the child appeared to be hard-working and contributed to their own education. However, given the difficult and socially-challenging backgrounds from which the children came, the courts acknowledged that it was not always fair to make the children responsible for their own circumstances."

The court of appeals increased the total amount of damages due to the Roma plaintiffs to approximately HUF 100 million (approximately GBP 266,000).

The Supreme Court upheld the appellate court's judgment in full, in the process rejecting the defendant's application that the Court order compensation to be provided in-kind (that is, in the form of additional education and training that they would organize and provide), rather than in money. According to Allen & Overy, "the Supreme Court held that moral damages (i.e., compensation for breaches of personality rights) may only be provided in money under the Civil Code as interpreted by jurisprudence and court cases from the past century. Interestingly, against the backdrop of political pressure from the Government, the Supreme Court pointed out in the judgment that it is bound by laws only and it cannot be instructed by the Government."

According to Allen & Overy, "the Supreme Court with this judgment [did] its part in defending the rule of law."