The disciplinary regime introduced by Warsaw violates the independence of the judiciary and advises the highest EU judicial states.
The European Union’s Supreme Court should rule that measures put in place by the Polish Law and Justice Party (PiS) to discipline judges are contrary to the bloc’s laws, a court adviser said ahead of a final decision due in the coming months is due.
In a statement on Thursday, Advocate General Evgeni Tanchev recommended the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to rule that the Supreme Court’s disciplinary body is inconsistent with EU law.
The development was the latest in an ongoing dispute between the 27-member bloc and the conservative, populist party, which has reshaped the Polish judicial system since it came to power in 2015 to give the authorities new powers over the courts.
PiS has defended its moves and said it wanted to reform an inefficient and corrupt judicial system. However, critics see this as a pretext for the party to take control of the country’s courts.
In 2017, a body – the Disciplinary Chamber – was established at the Supreme Court of Poland with the power to discipline judges, including judges of lower courts.
Many judges in the country fear that the chamber is a tool to pressure judges to make decisions that favor government agencies.
While PiS has taken control of the highest courts, many lower court judges continue to demonstrate their independence, with some passing judgments against government officials or interests.
Tanchev also said Poland’s new definition of disciplinary offenses had a “deterrent effect” among judges by weakening their protection and independence.
Such legal opinions are not legally binding, but are often followed by the ECJ. The judges of the EU Supreme Court are now starting their deliberations on the case and a judgment is expected later this year.
“Destruction of the Polish rule of law”
The European Commission, which ensures that EU law is complied with by the member states, has lodged a complaint with the ECJ on this issue. She believes that the independence and impartiality of the disciplinary body cannot be guaranteed.
The Luxembourg-based ECJ has already ordered the suspension of the disciplinary body pending a final decision as to whether it offers sufficient guarantees for the independence of the judiciary. However, the board continued to work despite the judgment.
The chamber is composed of judges chosen by the National Council of Justice, a body whose members are elected by parliament in which the PiS has a majority.
News of Tanchev’s opinion reached Warsaw when lawyers and others gathered in front of the Supreme Court as the Disciplinary Chamber was hearing a judge’s case.
Michal Wawrykiewicz, an attorney at Free Courts, a group fighting for the independence of the judiciary, delivered a message in English to the television cameras.
“Dear judges of the European Court of Justice, hear the voices of Polish lawyers, citizens who are appalled by the destruction of the Polish rule of law,” said Wawrykiewicz.
“We are doing everything we can,” he said. “Please help us to restore the European standards of an independent judiciary in Poland. Now it is your turn.”
The Polish Deputy Minister of Justice Sebastian Kaleta accused the EU of “double standards” and Tanchev of spreading “lies” in order to block the overhaul of the judiciary in Warsaw.