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Poland's disciplining of judges broke EU law, top court says

July 15, 2021

The European Union's top court ruled that Poland's disciplinary chamber for judges does not guarantee impartiality and independence.

Judges, prosecutors, lawyers and supporters demonstrate in a rally in front of a court in support of judicial independence in Poland.
Critics of Poland's judicial reform say it gives the government control over the judiciaryImage: Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto/picture alliance

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Thursday that Poland's system of disciplining judges is "not compatible" with EU law.

ُThe European Commission had brought the case to ECJ, complaining that Poland was digressing from the rule of law cornerstones underpinning the EU treaty.

The verdict is the latest development in a six-year dispute and the second major ruling in a week. On Wednesday, Poland's top court said a previous ECJ order to suspend the body countered its constitution and the country should not comply.

What did the ECJ say? 

The Luxembourg-based court said a disciplinary body set up at Poland's Supreme Court "does not provide all the guarantees of impartiality and independence, and, in particular, is not protected from the direct or indirect influence of the Polish legislature and executive." 

"The Court of Justice upheld all the complaints made by the Commission and found that Poland had failed to fulfill its obligations deriving from EU law,'' the court said.

The court tasked the Polish authorities to "take the measures necessary to rectify the situation."

What is Poland's disciplinary chamber?

The body was established as part of a set of controversial judicial reforms in Poland.

Poland's ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has claimed the 2017 establishment of the body was part of its reform of an inefficient system riven with corruption and end Communist-era legacies in the judiciary.

The PiS-led parliament selects members of the National Council of the Judiciary, which chooses the judges who compose the disciplinary panel. 

Critics say it allows the government to investigate and punish judges for their court rulings, granting the Polish government more direct control over the judiciary.

Still, many lower court judges continue to assert their independence, and some have issued rulings against government officials or interests.

How did Poland respond?

Poland has increasingly denounced EU action against its decision on the judiciary as politically motivated. 

Polish government spokesman Piotr Muller told public broadcaster TVP1 that the court was "attempting to acquire the competencies of the member states" on judicial matters.

"It's an attempt to give EU institutions competencies beyond what they have been granted in the treaties," Muller said.

Donald Tusk, a former EU chief and head of the Polish opposition Civic Platform party, accused PiS of "leaving the EU." 

If Poland fails to comply with the European court ruling, it could face hefty fines.

 fb/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)