Poland’s parliament in January voted through new rules to discipline judges, dismissing claims by critics that the legislation could undermine judicial independence.
The European Commission on Wednesday said it was starting a formal infringement procedure and giving Poland two months to address its concerns about the new disciplinary regime, which it said could be used to punish judges critical of government changes to the judiciary.
“There are clear risks that the provisions regarding the disciplinary regime against judges can be used for political control of the content of judicial decisions,” said Věra Jourová, the deputy head of the European Commission in charge of upholding the EU’s democratic values.
She told a news conference, as quoted by the Reuters news agency: “This is a European issue because Polish courts apply European law. Judges from other countries must trust that Polish judges act independently. This mutual trust is the foundation of our single market.”
A Polish government spokesman in December criticised an “off the mark” appeal by the European Commission for politicians in Warsaw to hold off from adopting the controversial law.
Two US Congressmen in January urged the Polish president to uphold his country’s "commitment to democratic values" and reject “dangerous judicial reforms.”
At the end of last year protests were held in dozens of cities across Poland by demonstrators critical of the planned legal changes, which critics say could enable politicians to remove dissenting judges.
Under the law, put forward by deputies from the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), judges could face penalties for challenging the appointment of those of their peers who took up their posts after the conservatives came to power.
Some of the proposals were later modified during parliamentary work.
In late January, senior Polish officials slammed a Supreme Court ruling that judges recently appointed by the country’s governing conservatives were illegitimate and should not be allowed to hear cases.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki warned that if judges were allowed to question the appointment or verdicts of other judges, the Polish justice system could be engulfed by chaos.
Poland's governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, which came to power in late 2015 and won a second term in power in October last year, has argued that broad changes are needed to reform an inefficient and sometimes corrupt judicial system marred by communist holdovers.
The changes have triggered a series of clashes between Warsaw and Brussels.
The EU’s top court this month ordered Poland to immediately suspend a disciplinary chamber within its Supreme Court that critics have said could punish judges for their decisions.
The Polish prime minister said last year that some of the legal changes made by his conservative government have met with criticism abroad because they are not understood in Western Europe.
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.
Source: PAP, Reuters
Click on the "Play" button above to listen to an audio report