Judicial reform: human rights court condemns Poland

Dhe European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has sentenced Poland for the third time in three months for judicial reforms. The Strasbourg judges found on Thursday that the appointment of the members of the disciplinary body at the Polish Supreme Court was “unduly influenced by the legislative and executive branches”. This “fundamental irregularity” seriously questions the legitimacy of the body.

The right-wing nationalist ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) set up the disciplinary chamber in 2018. It is responsible for disciplinary proceedings against judges and can also suspend them. The PiS pretends to act against corruption, other misconduct and against the “legacy of communism” in the judicial system.

Political control and pressure from above

Critics, including the EU Commission, accuse the government in Warsaw of undermining the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers. As a result of a complaint by the Commission, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg (ECJ) ruled last week that the disciplinary body violated EU law.

The Luxembourg judges also criticized the lack of political independence of the disciplinary body. Another problem is that purely substantive court decisions can be classified and punished as disciplinary offenses. This enables “political control of court decisions” and the “exertion of pressure on judges”.

15,000 euros in damages

The judges of the Strasbourg ECHR examined the Polish regulation for its compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights; a lawyer had sued. They came to the conclusion that the disciplinary body could not be a legal body within the meaning of the convention and sentenced Poland to pay 15,000 euros in damages to the lawyer – a relatively high sum for the case law of the ECHR.

The human rights court has further lawsuits pending on the Polish judicial reforms, a total of 38. In May, the court had already convicted Poland of the “irregular” appointment of a constitutional judge. A conviction for removing two judges followed in June.

The EU institutions are also at odds with Warsaw in numerous proceedings because of the judicial reforms and other points. On Tuesday, the Brussels Commission gave the Polish government an ultimatum: by August 16, it had to explain how it would comply with the EU judicial decisions on the disciplinary body. Otherwise there is a risk of a fine. The PiS government has so far ignored the many trials and convictions.

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