Poland judges: Parliament and Supreme Court issue rival rulings

A judge holds a Polish flag during a march against judicial reforms in Warsaw on 11 January 2020. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Judges have joined marches against the judicial reforms

Tensions over Poland’s judicial reforms have deepened after the top court and politicians issued rival orders.

The Supreme Court said hundreds of judges chosen under new rules were not sufficiently independent and should no longer hear cases.

At the same time, lawmakers approved legislation making it easier to fire critical judges.

It marks the latest clash over reforms made by the ruling Law and Justice party since it came to power in 2015.

The government has argued that its sweeping changes were necessary to tackle corruption and make the judicial system more efficient. But critics, including the European Commission, say the independence of Poland’s judges is being eroded.

What was the Supreme Court ruling?

The Law and Justice party (PiS) changed the law in 2018 to allow the lower house of parliament – which it controls – to choose the members of the council that appoints judges.

The Supreme Court on Thursday adopted a resolution stating that judges chosen by the new council were not sufficiently independent, and did not meet the requirements of being a judge under the Polish constitution or EU law.

“Such a person does not have the right to issue judgements,” said Supreme Court president Malgorzata Gersdorf.

The resolution, adopted following a meeting of more than 60 Supreme Court judges, does not apply to cases already adjudicated, she said.

The Justice Ministry dismissed the resolution, saying it had no legal effect.

What did the lawmakers do?

Lawmakers in the lower house of parliament, meanwhile, gave their final approval to legislation that will strengthen the authorities’ abilities to punish judges who criticise the reforms.

Under the bill, any judge who questions the independence of hundreds of new judges chosen by the council will face punishments ranging from a job transfer to a fine or even dismissal.

The legislation also prohibits judges from engaging in any public activity that could be seen as politically motivated and prevents them from forming independent judicial bodies.

Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said the law was needed to stop judges questioning the status of other newly appointed judges and to prevent legal chaos.

The opposition-dominated Senate rejected the bill last week but did not have the power to block the reform.

It was approved by lawmakers in the lower house of parliament by 234 votes to 211. It must now be signed into law by President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally.

Poland’s opposition has labelled the legislation a “gagging bill”, while thousands have joined demonstrations across the country to protest against the judicial reforms.

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Media captionTens of thousands of nationalists march through Warsaw for Polish Independence Day


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