The Court of Justice of the European Union on Tuesday ruled that it was up to Poland’s highest court to resolve concerns over a new disciplinary chamber within it.
The ruling 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 that "Poland from the beginning argued that the Court of Justice of the European Union did not have jurisdiction to rule on national justice systems."
"Today's judgment confirms that the Luxembourg-based court shares these doubts," the spokesman, Piotr Müller, said, as quoted by Poland’s PAP news agency.
He added that "contrary to expectations" by Poland’s Supreme Court, the top EU court “did not say that the Disciplinary Chamber or the National Council of the Judiciary were against EU law.”
The National Council of the Judiciary (KRS) is a powerful body tasked with selecting judges for the Disciplinary Chamber.
Müller also argued that the EU court, in its judgement, “rejected” an opinion that an adviser issued in August.
Advocate General Evgeni Tanchev, an adviser to the Court of Justice of the European Union, said in June that the new disciplinary chamber within the Polish Supreme Court did not meet the requirements of judicial independence.
Müller also told the PAP news agency on Tuesday that the legal queries from the Polish Supreme Court sought to “delegalise the Disciplinary Chamber, to ban the KRS."
"Today's judgment does not lead to anything like this happening,” Müller said. “It’s a defeat for those who asked those questions and a victory for the Polish government."
Müller also said that the EU Court of Justice “has washed its hands” of the case “because it realises that its powers could be questioned.”
Poland's Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said in April 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.
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."
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 referred to a historical state of play and did not reflect 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 broad 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.