1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Poland elects controversial judges to top court

November 22, 2019

In what has been called a blow to judicial neutrality, Polish lawmakers elected two former politicians to the country's Constitutional Tribunal. Critics have said the move was illegal.

Poland's Constitutional Tribunal
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P.Supernak

Poland's parliament elected three new judges, including two former lawmakers from the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, to its constitutional court on Thursday, in a controversial move that opposition lawmakers are calling a "disgrace."

In ballots cast late Thursday night, PiS parliamentarians managed to elect former colleagues Krystyna Pawlowicz and Stanislaw Piotrowicz to the country's Constitutional Tribunal.

Polish politician Stanislaw Piotrowicz
Polish politician Stanislaw PiotrowiczImage: picture-alliance/PAP

The court's duties include verifying that federal legislation is constitutional.

Piotrowicz, the most controversial nominee, spearheaded recent judicial reforms in Poland that have been criticized by the EU for eroding the rule of law. Reforms have included changes to the body responsible for protecting judicial independence and the creation of a new disciplinary system.  

Pawlowicz, a university law professor, had a reputation in her time as a parliamentary lawmaker for lambasting the opposition.

Polish politician Krystyna Pawlowicz
Polish politician Krystyna PawlowiczImage: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Zawistowski

The appointments are significant as federal judiciary nominees do not typically have a political background. This raises questions about the court's independence, critics have said.

The third nominee, Jakub Stelina, is a law professor from the University of Gdansk. A rushed nomination, his name was put forth mere hours ahead of the vote.

The nominees must now make an oath of office to President Andrzej Duda.

Mounting controversies

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of the PiS party came to the defense of Piotrowicz earlier this week, saying that he "behaved decently'' when he acted as state prosecutor during the country's communist past.

However, Piotrowicz's communist ties are another source of contention. Duda's party has positioned many of its judicial reforms as moves to purge the system of corruption lingering from the communist era, which ended 30 years ago. For that reason, some are calling Piotrowicz's appointment little more than a power grab.

Read more: Poland and the EU... It's complicated

Controversy also surrounds a recent law that sets the retirement age for new judges at 65. Piotrowicz and Pawlowicz are both 67.

Poland's ombudsman Adam Bodnar called it a "clear breach of the statutory provision."

Michal Szczerba of the opposition Civic Platform party added that the nominees did not meet "the criterion of impeccable character".

Kangaroo court

Trouble for Poland's Constitutional Tribunal was already brewing in 2015, when PiS President Andrzej Duda refrained from installing three judges appointed by the opposition-controlled government. He instead swore in judges from his own party.

Ever since, the opposition has considered the judicial line-up unconstitutional and it does not recognize the authority of Thursday's appointment. The party did not present any candidates of its own as it considers the nominations illegal. 

Poland: Heavy Metal against nationalism

kp/sms (AP, dpa)

Every evening, DW sends out a selection of the day's news and features. Sign up here.

Skip next section Explore more
Skip next section DW's Top Story

DW's Top Story

Pope Francis delivers a closing speech at a bishops' conference in Marseille
Skip next section More stories from DW
Go to homepage