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Rule of LawPoland

ECHR orders Poland to compensate judges

November 8, 2021

The European Court of Human Rights has found Poland denied two judges the right to a fair job nominating process. The verdict was the latest legal knock against Warsaw's controversial justice reforms.

The ECHR in Strasbourg, France
The ECHR is the latest European court to find Warsaw's judicial reforms in breach of EU law Image: Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Monday ordered the Polish government to pay damages to two judges who argued they had been denied fair nominating process after their respective applications within the justice system were blocked by the national bodies tasked with appointing judges.

Judges at the European Union's top human rights court in Strasbourg ordered the Polish government to award plaintiffs Monika Dolinska-Ficek and Artur Ozimek €15,000 ($17,000) each. Moreover, the court obliged Poland to end the unfair nominating and review practice, saying, "in the interests of the rule of law... and the independence of the judiciary, a rapid remedial action on the part of the Polish state is required."

The ECHR questioned the independence of Poland's justice system regarding controversial reforms that created the National Council of the Judiciary (NCJ) — a public body responsible for nominating judges and reviewing ethical complaints as well as procedures for appointing judges — and the Supreme Court's Chamber of Extraordinary Review and Public Affairs — which heard the plaintiff's original appeals. The ECHR found the bodies to be neither politically independent nor impartial.

"The Court concludes that the Chamber of Extraordinary Review and Public Affairs of the Supreme Court, which examined the applicants' cases, was not a 'tribunal established by law'," the ECHR ruling said.

Poland's Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta took to Twitter on Monday to rail against the ECHR ruling, writing: "The ECHR has issued another verdict in which it questions the Polish NCJ under the bizarre principle that there are countries that are mature democracies and can have an extremely politicized procedure for choosing judges (Germany) and there are countries that need guardianship (Poland)."

What does the ECHR decision mean for Warsaw?

Monday's ECHR decision was the latest European setback for Poland in its ongoing dispute with Brussels over the rule of law and national judicial reforms. The ruling conservative-nationalist Law and Justice Party (PiS) says the reforms are needed to rid the country's judicial system of the residue of communism.

In 2020, for instance, the EU's top court, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), ordered Poland to suspend the Supreme Court's Disciplinary Chamber, ruling it was not independent and in breach of EU law.

Poland has said it intends to do away with the Disciplinary Chamber, but has yet to present detailed plans of how and when that will be done. Meanwhile, the ECJ has ordered Poland to pay €1 million euros a day for not dissolving it.

For its part, Poland's Constitutional Tribunal ruled this year that elements of EU law were incompatible with the Polish constitution, challenging a central tenet of EU integration.

Monday's ECHR verdict is not yet legally binding. Warsaw has three months to appeal the ruling.

Is €1 million a day a fair penalty?

js/fb (dpa, Reuters)