Wednesday

27th Jan 2021

Polish judge on front line of EU clash

  • Tuleya at a rock festival in Poland last year - the 'civic judge' is an outspoken critic of government reform (Photo: Ralf Lotys)

Poland is preparing to prosecute a government-critical judge using new powers the EU says are not compatible with European norms.

The disciplinary chamber of Poland's supreme court is to rule on 20 March whether to waive the immunity of Igor Tuleya following a request by the national prosecutor's office on Wednesday (26 February).

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The affair could see him suspended from work pending a long trial.

The prosecutor has said he broke the law in 2017 by letting reporters attend a court hearing that was meant to have been closed to the public, revealing secrets and spoiling an investigation.

But Tuleya, who is a fierce critic of Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, has said it was political revenge for one of his verdicts - to reopen an investigation into accusations of PiS voting violations on the national budget.

"No information that was not already out in the public was revealed [to the reporters]," he said of the prosecutor's claim on Polish radio on Thursday.

"This is tangible evidence that Poland is no different from Turkey ... I am probably one of the pests that should be eliminated," Tuleya said, referring to Turkey's persecution of government opponents.

He would not go to the disciplinary chamber hearing in March, he added, because the supreme court had earlier ruled that the new chamber had no authority.

PiS created the chamber as part of wider reforms which the European Commission has said undermined judicial independence.

The commission has launched legal challenges at the EU court in Luxembourg and sanctions procedures in Brussels to try stop the changes in Poland.

It declined to comment on Tuleya.

"The [EU] commission is aware of this development [the Polish prosecutor's request for an immunity waiver], but does not comment on individual cases," it told EUobserver.

But the commission has applied to the EU court for "interim measures", ordering Poland to suspend the functioning of the disciplinary chamber until broader issues concerning judicial oversight in Poland have been resolved.

And the hearing at the EU court is scheduled for 9 March, which means that if the EU judges issue an injunction, then Tuleya's disciplinary hearing, 11 days later, would fall by the wayside.

Tuleya, a 49-year old from the Polish city of Łódź, has in the past been labelled an enemy of the state in pro-PiS media and social media and threatened with violence.

But he has continued to publicly campaign against the judicial reforms in a role which he has called that of a "civic judge".

"Perhaps this is not a model known in older democracies in Europe, but I don't think it's at odds with their standards. It may be new and it's very needed here [in Poland]," he told the New York Times in a recent interview.

The Polish foreign ministry declined to comment.

PiS has in the past said its judicial reforms were needed to purge former communist stooges and that the EU has no legal mandate to intervene.

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