Tuesday

29th Sep 2020

Poland 'crossed rubicon' against EU court injunction

  • Polish judge Igor Tuleya is a vocal critic of the ruling Law and Justice party (Photo: iustitia.org)

Poland has "crossed the rubicon" with its first political trial of a judge, in violation of an EU court injunction, Polish judges said.

The EU Court of Justice, on 8 April, ordered Poland to suspend the work of a new disciplinary tribunal on grounds it lacked political independence and that its activities would cause "serious and irreparable harm to the interests of the EU".

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But on Tuesday morning (9 June), the new tribunal met in Warsaw anyway.

The disciplinary board, which was stuffed with loyalists of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, deliberated, for three hours, whether to waive the immunity of a PiS-critical judge named Igor Tuleya.

It decided to uphold his immunity, pending a potential appeal by the country's top prosecutor, who is another PiS loyalist.

Tuleya could be jailed for three years for alleged procedural violations in 2017.

Meanwhile, Polish diplomats have split hairs on whether the wording of the EU injunction applied to this case.

But for Polish judges' association, Iustitia, it was a "clear violation".

"It's good that [Tuleya's] immunity was not lifted. But the mere fact the disciplinary tribunal is issuing verdicts, ignoring the EU Court of Justice, shows us what's coming next," it said in a statement.

Dozens of rank-and-file judges across Poland, who suspended daily proceedings in protest on Tuesday, also agreed.

What is likely to come next, they feared, is that other judges would be hauled in front of the PiS board if it did not like their verdicts.

"If the prosecution wants to go after judges for their rulings, then we [Poland] have crossed another rubicon" into lawlessness, Grzegorz Gała, a judge from the Polish city of Łódź told the Onet.pl news website.

"According to the EU injunction, the disciplinary board is not an independent organ ... and any one of us might be targeted next," he said.

For its part, the European Commission said on Tuesday: "We are following with concern the actions of the disciplinary chamber".

But it declined to comment on "individual cases".

For judges around Europe, who marched in solidarity with people like Tuleya in Warsaw in January, PiS had "dropped even the pretence of rule of law," in the words of José Igreja Matos, the president of the European Association of Judges.

And for Tuleya himself, that EU "solidarity" in the face of "political prosecutions" was "very important".

"The main thing is that the fight for the rule of law, the independence of courts, and independence of Polish judges goes on," he said.

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