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I UNDERSTAND
English Section

Polish judges, gov’t in wrangle over legal changes

24.01.2020 11:47
Senior Polish officials have slammed a Supreme Court ruling that judges recently appointed by the country’s governing conservatives are illegitimate and should not be allowed to hear cases.
Polish Supreme Court judges convene on Thursday
Polish Supreme Court judges convene on ThursdayPhoto: PAP/Piotr Nowak

The pronouncement by a meeting of 59 Supreme Court justices on Thursday added to tensions over judicial reforms in the country amid warnings of legal chaos.

Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro dismissed the ruling, saying it was “a gross violation of the law” and had “no legal force.”

Government spokesman Piotr Müller told reporters on Friday that Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki would ask the country’s Constitutional Tribunal to examine the validity of the Supreme Court’s resolution.

Morawiecki has previously warned that if judges question the appointment or verdicts of other judges, the Polish justice system could be engulfed by chaos.

Meanwhile, Poland’s parliament on Thursday voted through disputed new rules to discipline judges, dismissing claims by critics that the legislation could undermine judicial independence.

Poland’s Supreme Court said in December that an influential judicial body reshaped by the country’s ruling conservatives was “not impartial or independent.”

The ruling came in a case concerning the dismissal of a judge and amid a row over disciplinary measures for Polish judges that took effect in 2018 as part of sweeping changes to the country’s judicial system.

The Court of Justice of the European Union in November said that it was up to Poland’s highest court to resolve concerns over the new disciplinary chamber within it.

That judgment by the top EU court came in response to queries from Poland’s Supreme Court, which had expressed doubts over the independence of the new National Council of the Judiciary and the Disciplinary Chamber elected by it.

The Polish government spokesman said in a comment at the time that the Court of Justice of the European Union “did not have jurisdiction to rule on national justice systems."

Judicial overhaul

Poland’s president in December 2017 signed into effect two contested laws to reshape the country's judicial system, part of a wider package of sweeping legal changes that have met with criticism from opponents and set Warsaw on a collision course with Brussels.

The two laws reshaped the country’s Supreme Court and reorganised the influential National Council of the Judiciary, which nominates new judges and is tasked with safeguarding the independence of courts.

The country’s ruling majority, of which President Andrzej Duda is an ally, has hailed the new regulations as a vital reform of what it says is Poland’s inefficient and sometimes corrupt justice system.

But the opposition has castigated the changes as unconstitutional and claimed the governing conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party was seeking to pack the Supreme Court and the KRS judicial panel with loyalists.

More powers for lawmakers

Under the regulations greenlighted by Duda at the time, an autonomous disciplinary chamber was created within the Supreme Court that is in part staffed by lay members elected by the upper house of parliament.

In another key change to previous rules, the lower house of parliament was given the power to elect the bulk of the KRS judicial panel's 25 members. Previously this right was chiefly enjoyed by the judges themselves.

Poland's Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said in April last year that new Polish measures to discipline judges were designed to fight "pathological" behaviour and were less political than those in neighbouring Germany.

Ziobro also said at the time that the new disciplinary chamber in Poland’s Supreme Court had been established to deal with lapses among judges, including cases of theft.

He added that previous procedures were inadequate to discipline such judges.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in 2017 that his country’s judicial system was “deeply flawed” and that his ruling conservatives were elected with a mandate to overhaul it.

(gs)

Source: IAR, PAP