European Union representatives announced on Wednesday that the European Union is referring Poland to Europe’s highest court, amid longstanding concerns about respect for the rule of law and the independence of judges at the Supreme Court.
The bloc’s executive committee said that it would ask the European Court of Justice to issue interim orders pending a final ruling in this regard “to prevent serious and irreparable harm to the independence of the judiciary and the legal system of the European Union.
The European Commission has previously warned Poland that it may refer the case to the European Court of Justice if the government fails to act to solve Polish judicial law problems.
“This is a major step in conducting a violation,” said European Union Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders about taking the case to court.
The European Commission case is part of a long-running dispute between Brussels and national governments in Poland and Hungary over democratic standards and the rule of law in a bloc of 27 countries.
The Commission considers that Poland is violating European Union law by allowing the disciplinary body of the Supreme Court to take decisions that directly affect judges and their modus operandi and undermine the independence of the judiciary.
“These cases include lifting the immunity of judges for the purpose of criminal prosecution or arresting them, and the resulting temporary suspension and reduction of their salaries,” said a European Commission judge who appears before a committee before one of the committees. A court whose independence is not guaranteed has a “deterrent effect” on judges. ”
In Warsaw, government spokesman Piotr Mueller questioned the authority of the European Union in this regard.
He said, “The organization of the judiciary belongs exclusively to the national authority and is a direct result of the provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland and the treaties of the European Union.”
Mueller also said on Twitter that the commission’s request to the court “has no legal or factual basis”. He stressed that “the rules in Poland correspond to the standards in force in the European Union.”
A number of statutory laws starting from the end of 2019 regulate the Polish justice system. The laws went into effect in February 2020. The European Commission launched violation measures against the right-wing government in Warsaw in April and took further steps in October and December.
And in November, the Disciplinary Chamber suspended Judge Igor Tully and cut his salary by 25%. Tully, a critic of changes in the judiciary, became a symbol of the struggle for judicial independence in Poland. Tully’s immunity was also waived so that prosecutors could sue a judge for allowing journalists to be heard in a politically sensitive trial.
A third judge criticizing the policy of the Polish Ministry of Justice was dismissed from the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, most of them loyal to the government.
The European Commission said that the temporary measures it is calling for include asking the Court of Justice to suspend the legal provisions that allow the Chamber to deal with requests to lift the immunity of judges, as well as issues of employment, social security and security. The judge decides in court. ”
The president of Poland’s largest union of judges, Christian Markevich, said that the committee’s decision was a “victory for the liberals” and a “victory for the judges” because it showed that Europe supports their defense of their independence.
Regulations enacted by the government since it came to power in 2015 have forced some senior judges to retire, particularly those critical of the government’s actions. The government is filling the jobs with loyalists and insisting the changes are necessary to restructure the judicial system after the remainder of the communist era.
Critics say most employees have changed since then, and say the government intends to exert political control over the judiciary.
Amnesty International said the commission’s decision was a “much needed step to stop further damage to the independence of the judiciary in Poland”.
“Despite initial measures to break the disciplinary system, the Polish authorities continue to prosecute judges and prosecutors who criticize the“ reforms. ”“ We are awaiting the swift ruling from the European Court of Justice to approve interim measures, ”said Yves Gide, Director of the European Union Office at Amnesty International. We urge the Polish authorities to stop the attacks on their justice system. “
Reported by Scislowska from Warsaw.
Samuel Petrykin, Monica Sislovska, Associated Press