Polish reforms to give its justice minister the power to hire and fire court heads have been slammed in a new European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling.
The European court said that the Polish justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro infringed the rights of two Kelce judges, Mariusz Broda and Alina Bojara, when he removed them from one of their posts without giving them the right of appeal.
The governing Law and Justice (PiS), already under fire for its policies regarding LGBTQ and abortion rights, has introduced a number of judicial reforms which the European Union leaders say threatens the independence of its court system.
What changes did the Polish government make?
The right-wing Polish government has introduced legislation that gives the country's justice minister the power to unilaterally remove court officials that coordinate its work and administrative duties.
During a six-month period between 2017 and 2018 Ziobro dismissed 150 court presidents and vice-presidents, according to the Polish judges association, Iustitia.
As part of this drive, the controversial PiS party removed Broda and Bojara from their posts as vice-presidents of the Kelce Regional Court in the south east of the country.
The justice minister had not given the judges any reasons for their dismissal before the end of their six-year term had ended.
What does this European court ruling mean?
The ECHR ruling challenges the legality of this hire and fire policy, by saying the justice minister did not respect the judges' basic rights to due process.
"As the premature termination of the applicants' term of office as court vice-presidents had not been examined either by an ordinary court or by another body exercising judicial duties, the respondent State had infringed the very essence of the applicants' right of access to a court," the ECHR said.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Poland should pay Broda and Bojara €20,000 ($23,800) in compensation. It gave both sides three months to appeal the verdict.
What have been the reactions so far?
The Polish justice ministry said it was looking at the ECHR decision and would comment soon.
"We respect the court but we are implementing our programs, including the reform of the justice system, in line with our schedule," Poland′s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said during a news conference.
Human Rights Watch has put the latest reforms under the spotlight.
"The actions by Poland and Hungary show that leaving rule-of-law breaches unchecked undermines democratic institutions and eventually affects the human rights and lives of everyone in those countries," said Philippe Dam, Europe and Central Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
The ECHR ruling follows a May decision that a Polish company was not able to receive justice because of an illegal constitutional court appointment.
This report was written in part with material from Reuters news agency.