Poland: Rule of law under threat as government encroaches on judiciary

Poland: Rule of law under threat as government encroaches on judiciary

Government proposals giving the country’s ruling party control of judicial appointments and the Supreme Court have been approved by the Parliament of Poland.

The government said the plans are necessary to break the grip of the ”privileged caste” of lawyers.

However, a coalition of various groups has warned Poland will “definitively cease to be a democratic state of law” if the legislation becomes law.

The Venice Commission, which is the Council of Europe Bodyresponsible for monitoring rule of law issues, has said the legislation is a “grave threat” that “puts at serious risk the independence of all parts of the Polish judiciary”.

Street protests in July saw an earlier attempt to take control of the judiciary derailed, with President Andrzej Duda taking the unusual decision of vetoing proposals after the Parliament had approved them.

Months of negotiations ensued between Mr Duda and Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of PiS, who nominated Mr Duda for the presidency.

However, it is now possible that the ruling party will ultimately take control of the National Judiciary Council. As an initial step, Parliament will have the power to elect the majority of its members where there is a stalemate.

Marcin Matczak, professor of law at the University of Warsaw told The Guardian: “The reform is exactly as Kaczyński wanted it.

“He and his party will have full control of the National Judiciary Council, and therefore effectively control the appointment of judges.”

The Supreme Court laws will force all justices over 65 to retire in the absence of presidential approval to extend their terms.

Forty per cent of the court’s judges are over 65.

In addition, it allows for almost any case to be reopened if the Prosecutor-General thinks it necessary.

The Prosecutor-General also holds a government office; that of Justice Minister.

“Eighty per cent of Polish society claims that the most important problem in the Polish courts is that the proceedings last too long,” said Mr Matczak.

“So what does Duda do? He proposes a fourth instance of appeal, where almost any case in the past or future can be reopened by the government and considered by new judges, in courts controlled by PiS.”

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