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English Section

Top EU court to rule on disciplinary measures for Polish judges

19.11.2019 08:00
The EU's top court is on Tuesday expected to rule on whether Poland undermined the independence of judges with its new disciplinary measures for jurists.
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Pixabay License Image by succo from Pixabay

The ruling is set to be announced after an adviser to the Court of Justice of the European Union said in June that a new disciplinary chamber within 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.

The National Council of the Judiciary (KRS) is a powerful body tasked with selecting judges for the Disciplinary Chamber.

In a comment that same day, 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.

The adviser’s opinion was non-binding and just a suggestion for the top EU court, though in most cases its judges use such opinions when they prepare to rule on cases.

Poland’s prime minister was quoted as saying last week that he hoped the Court of Justice of the European Union would “issue a judgment in accordance with EU law.”

He told Poland’s PAP news agency that Article 67 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union “explicitly states that the Union must respect the various legal systems and traditions of individual member countries.”

He argued that “in the EU there are countries where judges are chosen by politicians, such as Germany; those in which judges have a voice in the process, but are in the minority, like France; or those, such as Poland, in which judges constitute the majority in the National Council of the Judiciary.”

Row over judicial changes

In a separate case targeting the new disciplinary rules for Polish judges, the European Commission last month said it had decided to refer Poland to the EU's top court over the new regulations.

The move marked the latest step in a prolonged dispute over alleged rule-of-law breaches in Poland. It came 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."

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.”

Legal wrangle

The European Commission's October 10 decision to refer Poland to the EU's top court was the latest in a series of clashes between Brussels and Warsaw over sweeping changes to the country’s judicial system.

The European Court of Justice this month ruled that Poland broke European Union law with its 2017 judicial overhaul that lowered the retirement age for judges and introduced a different retirement age for men and women in the profession.

The Polish foreign ministry said in a statement that the ruling by the top EU court refers to a historical state of play and does not reflect the current regulations.

The European Commission in December 2017 took 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 (PiS) party, which came to power in late 2015, has argued that sweeping changes are needed to reform an inefficient and sometimes corrupt judicial system marred by communist holdovers.

Poland’s prime minister said 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.

(gs/pk)

Source: PAP, TVN24