Judge seen as politically independent gets oversight post in Hungary

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary's top judicial body on Wednesday approved the nomination of a Budapest judge to run its courts oversight office, calling it a step "in a good direction" amid concerns about increased political control over the judiciary.

The National Judicial Council, a self-governing panel of judges, cleared Gyorgy Barna Senyei for the nine-year post which oversees appointments of judges and court operations. Senyei is currently in charge of civil litigation in Budapest.

"The... Council came to the conclusion that the professional plans of the candidate were convincing," judicial council member Viktor Vadasz told a news conference. He called Senyei's nomination by Hungary's president a step "in a good direction."

Judicial sources said Senyei was seen has having shown a record of independence from political influence.

Parliament, dominated by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's conservative nationalist Fidesz party, is widely expected to rubber-stamp Senyei's appointment.

Senyei's predecessor as head of the National Office of the Judiciary was Tunde Hando, the wife of a Fidesz lawmaker, who has moved on to a judgeship on the Constitutional Court.

Hando frequently clashed with the National Judicial Council over accusations that she abused her power in the appointment of new judges. She rejected the allegations.

Orban has solidified his grip over most walks of Hungarian life since his initial election in 2010, leading to disputes with fellow European Union country leaders over a perceived erosion of democratic standards in Hungary.

Ruling right-wing populists in Hungary and Poland have tightened control over the media, courts, academia and civic rights groups, spurring European Parliament legal procedures against both EU member countries.

(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Mark Heinrich)