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Rule of Law

Poland to reform court despite ECJ ruling

November 19, 2019

Poland's ruling Law and Justice party's controversial reforms of its courts will go ahead, said PM Morawiecki. Hours before, the EU's top court stopped short of ruling Poland's new disciplinary chamber was illegal.

A Polish Supreme Court judge's robe and hat
Image: Imago Images/ZUMA Press/P. Twardysko

Poland will continue with its controversial justice system reforms, said Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, despite a ruling by the EU's top court.

Judicial independence is important but "does not entail lack of responsibility," said Morawiecki in a speech on Tuesday as he outlined the ruling Law and Justice party's (PiS) priorities for a new term in office.

"The citizens have a right to efficient courts" he added.

Just hours before Morawiecki's speech, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that the Polish Supreme Court must determine whether its new disciplinary chamber is sufficiently independent to handle complaints brought by judges against their early retirement.

The ruling was in response to a proposed controversial reform that would see the retirement age of Supreme Court justices lowered from 70 to 65, but allow the Polish president to grant a five-year extension to those deemed worthy.

Morawiecki: German, French, Spanish governments influence judiciary

During his speech, Morawiecki continued to justify the reforms in an apparent reference to the ECJ ruling, saying that a member of the majority German Christian Democrats party (CDU) was appointed deputy head of the Constitutional Court.

Morawiecki also cited the French and Spanish justice systems as further examples.

"Does the opposition in these countries complain to international institutions that there is no rule of law there?" Morawiecki asked.

Poland's Supreme Court
The ECJ stopped short of finding that Poland's new disciplinary chamber was illegalImage: Getty Images/AFP/J. Skarzynski

Polish justices referred back to Supreme Court

An ECJ branch reached a ruling earlier on Tuesday on a case brought by three Polish Supreme Court judges, who filed a legal complaint after they were forced into retirement under the new reforms.

The branch ruled that the Polish judges must have recourse to an independent body, but referred back to the Polish court to make this assessment, as well as noting that a number of factors could call into question the new chamber's independence from political influence.

Retirement cases must "be examined by a court which meets the requirements of independence and impartiality and which, were it not for that provision, would have jurisdiction in the relevant field."

The ECJ branch stopped short of ruling that the new chamber was illegal.

Tuesday's ECJ decision was the latest in a line of rulings on the PiS' far-reaching reforms, which are viewed by the EU as challenging its judiciary values.

Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told the Polish Press Agency (PAP) last week that Poland would respect "any ruling that will be compatible with EU treaties and the Polish constitution," but also said the EU had the "obligation to respect" diverse legal systems and traditions of member states.

kmm/ng (Reuters,dpa,AFP)

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