Polish judicial reforms violate EU law, EU court rules
Poland’s 2019 judiciary reform infringed EU laws, with the country’s Supreme Court lacking independence and remaining under government control, the Court of Justice of the EU ruled on Monday.
The ruling referred to the reform which established, among other things, the Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Chamber, which according to the EU Court and the European Commission, could not be viewed as impartial and may have served to persecute judges critical of the government.
“The Disciplinary Chamber (…) does not satisfy the requirement of independence and impartiality,” the ruling reads.
“The mere prospect, for judges called upon to apply EU law, of running the risk that such a body may rule on matters relating to their status and the performance of their duties (…) is liable to affect their independence,” the Luxembourg-based court explained.
EU member states have the competence to review the respect of the rule of law, effective judicial protection and judicial independence. In exercising their power concerning the organisation of justice, member states must comply with the obligations arising from EU law, as stated in the ruling.
But the Disciplinary Chamber, dissolved in 2022, was not the only problem.
The other issue was that the amending law gave one single national body, the Extraordinary Review and Public Affairs Chamber of the Supreme Court, jurisdiction to verify compliance with essential requirements relating to effective judicial protection, which also infringes EU law, according to the CJEU.
Moreover, the national provisions requiring judges to submit a written declaration indicating any membership of an association, non-profit foundation or political party, which provides that that information be placed online, infringe the fundamental rights of those judges to the protection of personal data and respect for private life, the ruling added.
According to the European Commission, which brought the case against Poland before the EU court, the amending law prohibits national courts from reviewing whether national laws comply with EU requirements relating to an independent and impartial tribunal previously established by law and establishes such a review as a disciplinary offence. The EU Court “upholds the Commission’s actions, as said in the statement.
The Court noted that during the proceedings, Poland was ordered to pay the Commission, by order of the Vice-President of the Court of 27 October 2021, a daily penalty of €1 million, which was considered necessary to ensure that Poland gave effect to the interim measures set out previously in 2021 with regards to the suspension of the application of the provisions of the amending law contested by the Commission.
By order of the Court’s vice president as of 21 April 2023, the amount of the daily penalty payment was reduced to €500,000, as the Court acknowledged Warsaw dismantling the Disciplinary Chamber and replacing it with the Professional Liability Chamber while insisting that not all the issues regarding the independence of Polish judiciary have been solved.
With the ruling, the daily penalty ceased to be charged. However, the Court stressed that this does not affect Poland’s obligation to make the penalty payments due in respect of the past. Poland has so far refused to do so.
Amending the Polish judiciary in compliance with the EU standards, including repealing the previous reforms the EU Court found to be incompatible with the EU law, was one of the milestones conditioning the Commission launching the Recovery and Resilience funds for Poland, which are continuously suspended due to the rule of law issues.
Warsaw accuses CJEU of corruption
The CJEU’s ruling faced an intense backlash from Poland’s ruling camp, including Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, leader of the anti-EU Sovereign Poland party.
The Luxembourg-based court’s verdict “was not written by judges but politicians because it constitutes a clear violation of European treaties,” Ziobro said, calling the EU’s top court “corrupt”.
(Aleksandra Krzysztoszek | EURACTIV.pl)