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Justice Minister threatens Poland's Constitutional Tribunal judges with legal action

Poland's Justice Minister has threatened Constitutional Tribunal judges with legal action if they don't comply with government reforms. The ruling party is not backing down as the constitutional crisis goes on.

Polish Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro

Polish Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro

Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro urged the court's chairman to "adhere to the legislation or face a legal review" by his office, in a letter published Wednesday.

At the beginning of the court's regular proceedings - broadcast live on Polish television Wednesday - the head of the tribunal, Andrzej Rzeplinski, confirmed he had received a letter from Ziobro telling the court to comply with the reforms or "else face legal consequences."

The tribunal ruled in early March that a series of changes to the law that govern its operations - and which had been rushed through parliament in December - violate the constitution.

It said the unconstitutional reforms include a new majority rule and a change to the number of justices. The government, led by the Law and Justice party (PiS), refused to accept the court's decision.

A war of words

The right-wing government has been ramping up its attacks on the court in 2016. Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said in March that the court's president "increasingly reminds me of an Iranian ayatollah."

He told public radio in March that the Constitutional Tribunal "smacked of Iran's religious rulers, who place themselves above democratic institutions."

Several opposition parties as well as legal experts have appealed to the tribunal over the laws passed in December, which opponents say weaken judicial independence.
People demonstrate during an anti-government rally in Gdansk, Poland January 23, 2016

People demonstrate during an anti-government rally in Gdansk in January

International censure

The Secretary General of the Council of Europe,

Thorbjorn Jagland

, and the vice president of European Commission, Frans Timmermans, have also recently reiterated calls for a dialogue between the court and the Polish government in an effort to end the tribunal's paralysis.

The ongoing crisis may produce two parallel legal systems in the country, Timmermans warned on Wednesday.

Poland's constitutional tribunal is currently paralyzed and there is no system to monitor whether the law is being enforced, Jagland said in Warsaw this week. His visit was connected with the ruling of the Venice Comission, which said "the weakening of the Constitutional Tribunal's efficiency would undermine democracy, human rights and rule of justice in Poland."

Jagland warned that unless the situation is resolved, Poland may face a lawsuit from the human rights court. "The concern is that if the constitutional crisis continues a … complaint or application to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg may arrive."

jbh/bk (dpa)

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