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Poland must suspend the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court

09 April 2020

 

When in 2017, Poland installed a new Disciplinary Chamber (Izba Dyscyplinarna) within the Supreme Court of Poland (Sąd Najwyższy), critics argued that the government would be able to investigate and punish judges for their court rulings. The Disciplinary Chamber is composed exclusively of judges selected by the National Council of the Judiciary (Krajowa Rada Sądownictwa, “KRS”), which is in turn composed by fifteen judges who were elected by the lower chamber of the Polish Parliament (Sejm). The governing party in the Parliament was then, and is still now, the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, who have pushed through several radical reforms over the past few years. Part of this is the introduction of legislation which allows to punish judges for “political activity”.

The European Commission brought the case before the European Court of Justice on 25 October 2019, because of allegations of a lack of independency and impartiality of Poland’s judiciary. In January 2020, the Commission urged the ECJ to take immediate action, citing “a risk of irreparable damage for Polish judges”.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) on Wednesday ordered Poland to suspend its Disciplinary Chamber, arguing that the Commission’s arguments were “not unfounded” and that the Chamber could indeed cause “serious damage to the EU legal order”. Poland now has one month to comply with the Commission’s request that the Chamber be separated from the legislative and executive branches, while the court makes its final ruling. After this, the Commission can ask for a fine against Poland.

The Chamber suspension also follows concerns raised by the Commission over Poland’s decision to carry out presidential elections in May by postal ballot to avoid the spread of COVID-19, which critics say may be illegal or unconstitutional. Opposition parties say this is a move by the PiS to boost the chances of incumbent president Andrzej Duda, but PiS claims it is to protect the democratic process.

 

Provided by Philanthropy Advocacy Team