Polish government rejects Brussels’ objections regarding Supreme Court

The EU Court of Justice could takes up the case against Poland over the controversial Supreme Court Act. [EPA/NICOLAS BOUVY]

The Polish government has rejected the Commission’s objections to its controversial law on the Supreme Court, stating that the Commission cannot assess justice in the member states. A complaint against Poland before the EU Court of Justice could soon follow. EURACTIV Poland’s media partner “Gazeta Wyborcza” reports.

“On Friday, the deadline passed which the Commission marked out for Poland to conduct the changes to the law on the Supreme Court. In the coming week, another step in the procedure is possible: a complaint in front of the EU’s Court of Justice,” lawyer Michał Wawrykiewicz from the Free Courts Initiative said at the end of last week.

The NGO is one of the organisations that has been urging the European Commission to defend the Supreme Court, asking that the application should join the complaint to suspend the Supreme Court Act until the EU’s top court settles the matter. In a similar way, Brussels blocked the logging of the Białowieża Forest.

Poland worried by EU vote to censure Hungary

Poland on Wednesday (12 September) said it was very worried by the European Parliament’s rare decision to launch a procedure against Hungary for posing a “systemic threat” to the EU’s founding values.

A few hours later, it was revealed that the Polish government had defended the Supreme Court Act in a new letter to the EU executive. The government in Warsaw contends that the Commission does not have the power to judge the justice system in member states, and argues that the law’s changes will have no negative impact on the way judges work.

The infringement procedure started by the Commission in July could soon enter its decisive phase with a formal complaint to the EU Court of Justice accusing Poland of breaching the EU treaties.

Brussels announced this possibility in August, when it formally called on Poland to “introduce appropriate measures” regarding the presidential law on the Supreme Court. “Otherwise, the Commission may refer the case to the CJEU,” it was reported.

Polish government to Commission: Not your business

“The Polish law on the Supreme Court is not compatible with EU law because it breaches the principle of the independence of the judiciary, including the irremovability of judges,” the Commission states.

The allegations concern provisions that lower the retirement age for Supreme Court justices from 70 to 65 years and give the President the right to decide whether to remove more  Supreme Court justices.

The Commission gave Warsaw a month to amend the bill in August, but it was ignored. Meanwhile, the government demanded that the Commission discontinue the infringement proceedings, saying that organising the judiciary is the sole competence of national governments.

The provisions of the Supreme Court Act enabling the removals have already – on the basis of national and EU law – suspended the seven-member Supreme Court composition. At the start of August, the president appealed to the EU court with legal questions about the compliance of the Supreme Court Act with EU regulations.

Duda, however, did not respect this ruling and in the last days, he stated that seven Supreme Court judges retired (21 in total since July).

Warnings by the Justice Defence Committee (KOS)

“The president issued official acts in the matter of seven judges, completely disregarding the rulings of the Supreme Court. He acted against the constitution, which in Article 174 orders to comply with the judgments of courts issued on behalf of the Republic of Poland,” says Wawrykiewicz.

“We are dealing with an unprecedented situation that violates trust in state organs. In accordance with the constitutional principle of legalism, these bodies must act on the basis and within the limits of the law. Therefore, the president’s official acts are ineffective, they have no legal force,” he said.

The seven sent by Duda into retirement say they still consider themselves active judges. At the same time, they announced that in anticipation of the EU court’s reply, the Supreme Court would refrain from adjudicating.

Defying EU, Poland names new acting Supreme Court chief

Poland’s presidency on Tuesday (11 September) named a new acting head of the Supreme Court as Warsaw presses ahead with an overhaul of its judiciary that critics, including the EU, say undermines the rule of law in the ex-communist state.

“These judges up to the age of 70 are judges in active service, which is consistent both with the constitution and the principle of effective judicial protection resulting from EU regulations,” the attorney told a press conference on Friday.

He acted on behalf of Polish non-governmental organisations which, under the aegis of the Justice Defence Committee (KOS), monitor violations of the independence of the judiciary in Poland.

“Polish officials drastically undermine the independence of the judiciary and ostentatiously violate international obligations. This will lead to a situation in which Poland will be excluded from the group of lawful states with all the consequences of this state of affairs,” said Danuta Przywara, president of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, which also acts in KOS.

“In my darkest dreams, I did not think that 29 years after the June elections and 14 years after Poland’s accession to the EU, we would be forced to defend the last foothold of democratic Poland, currently the Supreme Court, before the democratically elected authorities of our country,” she added.

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