Poland makes ‘unprecedented’ challenge to European rights pact

The Council of Europe, of which the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is part and where Poland is one of 47 members, expressed deep unease at the Polish move. [MDart10/Shutterstock]

Poland’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday (24 November) ruled that part of the European Convention on Human Rights was incompatible with the Polish constitution, in an unprecedented challenge against a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights.

“The Constitutional Court throws away the ECHR judgement violating our system,” Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta said on Twitter, referring to a ruling earlier this year on Poland’s controversial judicial reforms.

Kaleta said that it was “a beautiful day for Polish rule of law and sovereignty” and that “another attempt at external and illegal interference in Poland’s system has been stopped”.

But pan-European rights body Council of Europe, of which the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is part and where Poland is one of 47 members, expressed deep unease at the move.

“Today’s judgement from the Polish Constitutional Tribunal is unprecedented and raises serious concerns. We will carefully assess the judgment’s reasoning and its effects,” CoE Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric said in a statement.

The Strasbourg-based ECHR is charged with overseeing implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights, which all 47 CoE members must sign up to.

Its rulings are legally binding and not advisory, although in recent years there have been growing concerns over compliance, in particular from Turkey.

The COE is an entirely separate institution from the EU, with whom Warsaw is also engaged in a legal battle over jurisdiction.

Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz, an MP from the opposition Civic Platform party, criticised the Polish ruling and said the ECHR had helped thousands of Poles.

“In Russia, the Constitutional Tribunal also selects the judgements it wants to adhere to,” she said.

She said Poland had signed the European Convention on Human Rights 30 years ago and accused Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro of “pushing us out of the group of democratic countries”.

Growing tensions

The Polish justice ministry had asked the Constitutional Court to rule after a judgement from the ECHR in May questioning the legality of appointments of judges to the Constitutional Court.

The ECHR had also ruled against Poland’s “disciplinary chamber” for judges created by the populist right-wing government, which is at the heart of a bitter dispute between Brussels and Warsaw.

That case was brought by lawyer Joanna Reczkowicz, who was suspended by the chamber for alleged breaches of ethics.

She argued that the chamber was in effect a political body.

The ECHR agreed that the chamber was not a “tribunal established by law” under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights and as a result her right to a fair trial had been violated.

The government has argued its judicial reforms are needed to root out corruption among judges and has constantly rejected “interference” by institutions in Brussels and Strasbourg.

The EU, however, insists the reforms undermine judicial independence, and so undermine the rule of law and ultimately, democracy.

In a landmark ruling last month, Poland’s Constitutional Court ruled against the primacy of EU law, escalating a feud with the European Union which has held up the approval of EU recovery funds.

Polish court rules against supremacy of EU law, deepening row with Brussels

Poland’s highest court ruled on Thursday (7 October) that parts of EU treaties are incompatible with the Polish constitution, challenging a key tenet of European integration in a sharp escalation of a dispute between Brussels and Warsaw.

The EU’s Court of Justice has also ordered Poland to pay a daily fine until it shuts down the disciplinary chamber — something the government has said it will do but has not yet done.

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