Poland: New Laws Destroy Independence of Judiciary

Washington

In response to Poland’s parliament approving legislation on July 12 that places the judiciary under the political control of the Law and Justice government, Freedom House issued the following statement:

“Poland’s Law and Justice government is blatantly taking control of the judiciary and undermining its constitutional role as an independent check on the government’s authority,” said Nate Schenkkan, director of the Nations in Transit project at Freedom House. “Parliament has placed the judiciary under the control of the governing political party, undermining even the pretense of a separation of powers. Such utter contempt for rule of law and the basic tenets of democracy is unacceptable from a European Union member state. The European Union should accelerate the process of opening sanctions against Poland through the Article VII process. The United States should  make clear to Poland’s government that these actions undermine the two countries’ relationship.”

Background:

The Law and Justice government, which came to power in 2015, has launched a wide-ranging attack on the judiciary. Since 2015, the party has undermined the independence of the Constitutional Tribunal by refusing to appoint candidates who had been lawfully elected by the previous parliament; appointing its own candidates instead; refusing to publish several rulings of the court; and adopting and implementing unconstitutional legislation in contradiction to the court’s rulings.

On July 12, Parliament adopted legislation on the National Judicial Council—a body responsible for safeguarding the independence of the judiciary—that will place it under political control by amending the appointment procedure. According to the new rules, judges will no longer appoint the majority of NJC members, who will instead be appointed by Parliament.

Also pending in Parliament is a bill that would terminate the tenures of all current members of the Supreme Court and change the appointment procedure to the court. If that draft law is passed, all members of the Supreme Court will be appointed by the Ministry of Justice.

Poland is rated Free in Freedom in the World 2017, Partly Free in Freedom of the Press 2017, and receives a democracy score of 2.57, on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 as the worst possible score, in Nations in Transit 2017.

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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