Poland: Free courts, free people, judges standing for their independence

  • Since late 2015, the government of Poland has adopted and implemented a set of legislative and policy measures leading to undermine the independence of the judiciary, which is now vulnerable to political influence.
  • As a consequence of the “reform” of the judiciary, the National Council of the Judiciary (NCJ)had lost its autonomy, and pursuant to the law adopted in December 2017, the majority of its members are now elected by parliamentarians.
  • On 17 September 2018, the General Assembly of the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ)suspended the membership of Poland’s National Council of the Judiciary, because they concluded that the NCJ could no longer be considered independent of the executive and legislature.
  • The amendment to the Law on the Supreme Court entered into force in April 2018 and resulted in –among other things –the forced retirement of the 27 out of the 74 Supreme Court judges, since the retirement age for Supreme Court judges was lowered from 70 to 65 years by the amendment.
  • The position of Disciplinary Prosecutor for Common Courts was created within the “reform” of the judiciary. The post holder and his two deputies are directly appointed by the Minister of Justice for a four-year term.
  • The disciplinary punishments for judges include admonition; reprimand; salary reduction of between 5% and 50% for a period of six months to two years; removal from a position; transfer to another location; and dismissal from the office of judge. Additionally, the lack of procedural rights for judges under disciplinary proceedings is concerning.
  • Judges who questioned the Court of Justice of the European Union about the compatibility between the new disciplinary proceedings withthe EU law have been targeted.
  • Moreover, through the new system of disciplinary proceedings, some judges have experienced targeted harassment for their professional decision-making, and the risk of being subjected to these proceedings hangs over others.
  • Judges and prosecutors who are known as defenders of human rights are at increased risk of harassment and intimidation. The government has targeted judges by subjecting them to disciplinary proceedings for rulings in which they upheld the human rights of persons who expressed dissent against the government.
  • Initial investigations triggered by judges’ public criticism of the government’s reform eventually shifted to issues around their professional performance.
  • The use of disciplinary proceedingsagainst judgesis concerning, resulting in an atmosphere where judges, out of fear of being subjected to disciplinary proceedings, risk having to base their decisions on political considerations rather exclusively on the law.
  • Apart from disciplinary proceedings, judges as a group have been also targeted in a negative campaign in the pro-government media, which routinely portrays them as those who “damage the interests of Poland” and are “above the law”.
  • In response to the government’s measures against the independence of the judiciary, judges across Poland have also started to organize collectively, having these activities, in some cases,triggered in a disciplinary action.Amnesty International urges the authorities in Poland to:
  • Immediately stop using disciplinary proceedings against judges and prosecutors merely for their exercise of the right to freedom of expression; for their rulings and other legitimate activities directly linked to their work.
  • Review the new system of disciplinary proceedings to ensure they are independent from the government, in particular the Minister of Justice, and not used as retaliatory action or other forms of pressure and harassment against judges.
  • Amend the Law on the National Council of the Judiciary to ensure that members who are judges are elected by their peers and not by the executive and/or the parliament.
  • Take immediate and concrete steps to restore and guarantee the independence of the Supreme Court

read the full report here

Geschrieben von eu-laender

6. September 2019