Tuesday

14th Aug 2018

EU court adds weight to concerns on Polish judiciary

  • The EU court said that the EU Commission's warning on Poland was "particularly relevant" to extradition assessments (Photo: Peter Teffer)

European Commission warnings on rule of law, such as those on Poland, can be a factor in halting extraditions, the EU's top court has said.

But the bar for halting them was set pretty high by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), helping Warsaw to claim moral victory.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Ziobro: EU court taught Irish judge a lesson in due process (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The EU commission's formal warning, issued last December, which said that there was "clear risk of a serious breach of the rule of law in Poland", was "particularly relevant" in extradition assessments, the ECJ said in Luxembourg on Wednesday (25 July).

"Maintaining the independence of judicial authorities is essential … in the context of the European arrest warrant [EAW] mechanism," it said.

For courts to be deemed impartial, judges' retirement rules and disciplinary boards must be independent, it added - echoing two specific commission complaints against Warsaw.

Those words weighed in on an Irish case in which a Polish national, Artur Celmer, had claimed he would not get a fair trial in Poland due to the Polish government's meddling with judicial independence, as alleged by the EU commission.

Wednesday's verdict meant that the Irish judge and any other judges from EU states considering whether to honour a Polish extradition request would first have to ask some questions.

It also meant that if the EU commission issued a Polish-type alert on any other EU state in future, for instance Hungary, then national courts would also have to proceed with extra caution.

The commission declined to comment on Wednesday, citing need for time to analyse the small print.

Its warning on Poland, the first of its kind in EU history, could lead to sanctions that would suspend Warsaw's voting rights in the EU Council.

It comes amid a wider clash on rule of law, EU migration rules, and national sovereignty not just in Poland, but also in Hungary and further afield.

If the commission appeared to have been aggrandised to the role of guardians of the EAW system, the ECJ set the bar pretty high for refusals, however.

The Irish judge would have to determine that there was a "systemic deficiency" in Poland, that it pertained to courts with jurisdiction on the EAW in question, and that the specific nature of the offence meant there was a "real risk" of a dodgy trial, the ECJ said, giving little hope to Poland's Celmer, who is wanted on drugs trafficking charges.

Refusal of an EAW should be "an exception", the verdict added.

Automatic suspension of all Polish EAWs could only go ahead if all 27 of the other EU states endorsed the EU commission's allegations, the verdict also said.

The legal niceties helped Poland to claim moral and political victory.

"The [EU] tribunal did not decree at any point in its statement that there had been violations of rule of law in Poland," Polish justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, said.

"Despite what the Irish court wanted, the tribunal did not agree to an automatic refusal," he said.

"The EU Court of Justice clearly, but very subtly, taught this [Irish] court a lesson - that there are rules, which have been in place for years, that have to be followed in such cases," he added.

Other Polish commentators were less positive, however.

The way the ECJ verdict was worded showed it believed the EU commission's allegations of judicial meddling in Poland, Mikolaj Pietrzak, the dean of the Warsaw Bar Association told Onet.pl, a Polish news agency.

"It's a very critical verdict on the changes in the Polish judiciary over the past two years," he said.

Some EU politicians read the ECJ the same way.

"This should be a stark warning for the Polish government that its path away from European democratic values is undermining its role in Europe and the world," Philippe Lamberts, the co-leader of the Green group in the European Parliament, said.

But for his part, Jago Russell, a civil society expert on extraditions, said the verdict would make little difference to business as usual no matter what the spin.

"We welcome the recognition that there are limits to mutual trust in Europe and that threats to fair trial rights can prevent extradition, but the [EU] court's approach will be incredibly hard to apply in practice," Russell, the head of Fair Trials, a London-based NGO, said.

Poland urged to halt 'purge' of top court

Next month Supreme Court judges could be removed in Poland - due to a controversial reform seen as a judicial purge by a government that wants to control the courts. The European Commission wants Warsaw to act now.

Opinion

While Poles defend courts, Kaczynski hijacks EU elections

While Twitter and EU bubble publications are flooded with photos of protesting crowds and "chains of light" in front of the presidential palace, the Law and Justice-controlled senate has adopted a law restructuring the electoral code for 2019's European elections.

News in Brief

  1. Malta to allow Aquarius migrants to disembark
  2. Juncker sends condolences over Genoa bridge collapse
  3. EU pledges €500,000 more for Indonesian earthquake island
  4. EU commission in talks with states on new Aquarius migrants
  5. Man held after car crashes into UK parliament security barrier
  6. Brexit delays better readability of medicines' instructions
  7. Masked youths set dozens of cars alight in Sweden
  8. Spain and Italy refuse new Aquarius-rescued migrants

Opinion

The systemic risk that Europe has to face

One of the biggest systemic risks across Europe, illustrated by Hungary and Poland, is the dominance of the executive power over the judiciary and informal channels of political dependency.

Schengen at stake in Austria-Germany talks

German interior minister Horst Seehofer is in Vienna on Thursday - as his plan to reject some asylum seekers was met by an Austrian threat to close its borders too.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  2. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  3. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  4. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  5. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  6. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  8. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  12. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma

Latest News

  1. EU commission steps up legal case against Poland
  2. Separation of powers instead of 'Spitzenkandidat' process
  3. Revealed: ExxonMobil's private dinner with Cyprus' top EU brass
  4. What Salvini teaches us about Operation Sophia
  5. 14 lobbyist meetings with Oettinger and Canete went unminuted
  6. UK poll suggests Brits would now vote Remain
  7. Some EU states face delays in 5G preparation
  8. Nordic and Baltic farmers urgently need EU support

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  4. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  6. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  8. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  9. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  11. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  12. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us