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16th Jul 2018

Polish president lectures EU judges on independence

Polish president Andrzej Duda on Thursday (2 June) stressed the importance of legal principles and rule of law.

”They are essential for the construction of democratic societies and their ability to live in peace, security and with a sense of justice," Duda said during a meeting with the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ) in the presidential palace in Warsaw.

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  • (Photo: Andrzej Hrechorowicz)

He said the independence of judges must be ensured.

”Independence and autonomy … is also a question of personal character, personality,” he said. "It's the ability to resist pressure, not just from the government but also from media and society, as well as superiors.”

ENCJ unites national judicial councils, institutions that work to ensure the independence of judges and the good functioning of judiciary systems in Europe.

The independence of the Polish national judiciary council (KRS), an ENCJ founding member, is under pressure after minister of justice Zbigniew Ziobro suggested to reform the body. He wants to dimiss its current members and elect new ones, as well as to strengthen the president’s control over the council.

KRS members say they are being punished for having thrown their weight behind Poland’s constitutional court in its dispute with Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS). The latter has tried to fill the court with loyalist judges and change its operating procedures to make the court’s work less efficient.

Ziobro and Duda both represent PiS.

ENCJ chairman Geoffrey Vos said the council supported the independence of the Polish judiciary and closely followed the fate of KRS and the constitutional court.

”We are willing to act,” Vos said, ”but our network lacks a magic wand that would make the problem disappear. But we are willing to present European best practice in the area.”

Poland’s commissioner for human rights Adam Bodnar said PiS seemed to be using the judicial crisis to push through unconstitutional bills, such as one on the prosecutor’s office which made justice minister Ziobro Poland’s general prosecutor as well.

”The prosecutor’s office set up a special department for judges,” Bodnar said. ”What’s that good for, if Poland is seen as one of the countries with the least corrupt judicial system?”

”We don’t have a proper separation of powers”, Bodnar continued.

”This is why it’s important that independent bodies monitor what is happening in Poland,” he told the European judges.

The European Commission has launched an investigation into the rule of law in Poland.

Duda is a doctor of law and used to teach at the Jagiellonian university in Cracow. His academic superviser, professor Jan Zimmermann, told Gazeta Wyborcza last year that he was sorry to see his former pupil violating the Polish constitution.

”He’s done it at least three times”, Zimmerman said.

”When pardoning Mariusz Kaminski [ a PiS politician who was sentenced to three years in prison for abuse of power]. When he refused to accept the oath of three constitutional judge-designates [who had been nominated by the previous government]. And when he hastily appointed the judges put forward by PiS for the court."

Analysis

EU still shy of 'nuclear option' on values

The EU commission has moved forward with its rule-of-law probe on Poland, but critics say that a better framework is needed to uphold values.

Poland questions legality of EU probe

On eve of potentially damning EU decision, Polish strongman Jaroslaw Kaczynski has said EU rule of law monitoring could be challenged in Luxembourg court.

Polish government promises constitutional reform

As Poland celebrates Constitution Day, the president says the current basic law should better reflect "modernity", amid a bitter fight over his party's attempts to reform the constitutional court.

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