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EU executive takes Poland to court over disciplinary rules for judges

10.10.2019 12:45
The European Commission on Thursday said it had decided to refer Poland to the EU's top court over new disciplinary rules for judges, the latest step in a prolonged dispute over alleged rule-of-law breaches.
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The move comes after the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, in July launched the second stage of an infringement procedure against Warsaw over the new Polish disciplinary rules for judges.

When it started its procedure against Poland in April, the Commission argued that new rules have undermined the independence of Polish judges "by not offering necessary guarantees to protect them from political control."

The Polish government, which denies the claims, was given two months to provide detailed explanations.

But the commission judged those to be unsatisfactory, and on July 17 launched the second stage of its proceedings, formally calling on Poland to comply with EU law, state news agency PAP reported.

The EU executive has now decided that Warsaw has "again failed to address the Commission's concerns" and referred the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union, the EU’s top court, requesting "an expedited procedure."

New Polish rules draw flak

The Commission said in April that new Polish legal regulations made it possible "to subject ordinary court judges to disciplinary investigations, procedures and ultimately sanctions, on account of the content of their judicial decisions."

The EU's executive also said at the time that the new Polish “disciplinary regime does not guarantee the independence and impartiality of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court which reviews decisions taken in disciplinary proceedings against judges.”

It added: “This Disciplinary Chamber is composed solely of new judges selected by the National Council for the Judiciary whose judges-members are now appointed by the Polish parliament (Sejm)."

Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans was in early April quoted as saying at a news conference that disciplinary measures for judges that Poland’s ruling conservatives introduced in 2017 appeared “to systematically subject judges to the political control of the executive.”

Series of clashes over legal changes

The European Commission's move on Thursday is the latest in a series of clashes between Brussels and Warsaw over sweeping changes to the country’s judicial system.

In July last year, the European Commission launched a procedure against Warsaw over contested reforms to Poland’s Supreme Court, arguing they undermined “the principle of judicial independence, including the irremovability of judges.”

That move followed the European Commission in December 2017 taking the unprecedented step of triggering Article 7 of the EU Treaty against Poland, stepping up pressure on Warsaw over judicial reforms.

The Polish government has since moved to modify the disputed legal changes.

Poland's governing Law and Justice party, which came to power in late 2015, has insisted that sweeping changes are needed to reform an inefficient and sometimes corrupt judicial system tainted by the communist past.

Poland’s prime minister argued in January that some of the legal changes made by his conservative government have met with criticism abroad because they are not understood in Western Europe.

Row over judicial independence 

In a separate case targeting the new disciplinary rules for Polish judgesan adviser to the EU's top court said in June that the new disciplinary chamber in the Polish Supreme Court did not meet the requirements of judicial independence.

“The newly-created Disciplinary Chamber of the Polish Supreme Court does not satisfy the requirements of judicial independence established by EU law,” the Advocate General to the Court of Justice of the European Union said in a statement at the time.

That statement by Evgeni Tanchev 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, public broadcaster Polish Radio’s IAR news agency reported.

Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro slammed Tanchev's opinion, saying it was “highly inconsistent internally” and incompatible with the bloc’s treaties.

He also told reporters that the Advocate General's opinion "de facto boils down to defending dysfunction in the Polish judiciary."

Ziobro told newsmen in April that new Polish measures to discipline judges were designed to fight "pathological" behaviour and were less political than those in neighbouring Germany.


Source: IAR, ec.europa.eu