Poland must immediately suspend the powers of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court as far as disciplinary cases against judges are concerned, the European Court of Justice ruled on Wednesday (8 April).
In ordering the temporary suspension pending the final decision, the EU’s top court sided with the European Commission in the latest round of the ongoing row stemming from the judicial reforms made by the governing right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party.
The European Commission in January said that the disciplinary chamber of Poland’s Supreme Court creates a risk of “irreparable damage” for Polish judges, fearing the “chilling effect” on their decisions and submitted a request to the top EU court for a temporary suspension of the Chamber’s operations.
Poland has one month to implement the Court’s temporary measures or face fines.
In November, the EU’s top court, whose rulings take precedence over national laws, said it was up to Poland’s Supreme Court to decide whether the disciplinary panel was independent.
Despite subsequent Polish Supreme Court rulings that found the disciplinary panel not to be independent, the body continued its operations.
The EU’s highest court, based in Luxembourg, rejected Poland’s arguments that it had no jurisdiction to temporarily suspend national provisions applying to judges because the organisation of justice is the responsibility of member states.
The Court underscored that when exercising organising their judicial systems countries must follow their obligations deriving from EU law and ensure that the disciplinary regime applicable to national judges complies with the principle of the independence of the judiciary.
The Court found that the possibility that the disciplinary panel was not independent poses enough of a risk to the independence of Poland’s courts to order the temporary measures in the interest of preventing “serious and irreparable harm to the EU legal order.”
The ordered provisional suspension does not effect the administrative and financial functions of the disciplinary panel.
The disciplinary panel is just one of many controversial judicial reforms the PiS has introduced since taking office in 2015.
In January, Poland passed a law aimed at disciplining judges who question government judicial reforms in a move denounced by the Supreme Court president Malgorzata Gersdorf as a “muzzle law.”
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]