22nd Mar 2018

EU to shed more light on Poland's judicial crisis

  • Behind-closed-doors discussions between Poland and the commission failed to find a solution to Poland's constitutional crisis (Photo: Polish Prime Minister's Office)

The European Commission on Thursday (18 August) granted a freedom of information request by Laurent Pech, a professor of European law at Middlesex University in London, to make public its opinion of 1 June on the rule of law in Poland.

The 18-page long text outlines the commission's concerns over the Polish government's attempt to stack Poland's constitutional tribunal with loyalist judges and its refusal to recognise the tribunal's rulings.

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It also explains commission unease over rules that would make it harder for the court to vet new laws.

It will be published later on Friday on a popular blog run by Steve Peers, a law professor at the University of Essex.

Pech’s first request for access was denied on the grounds that it “would affect the climate of mutual trust” between Polish authorities and the commission, which would “be required to enable them to find a solution and prevent the emergence of a systemic threat to the rule of law”.

But the professor said, in an appeal, that there was no evidence that keeping the opinion secret had helped to fulfil these goals.

He also said that the lack of publication prevented citizens, businesses and national authorities - as well as members of the Polish parliament - from holding their government accountable.

The Polish parliament, in July, passed a law on the constitutional tribunal without having seen the commission's opinion as it was still being kept secret by Brussels and by the Polish government at that time.

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, a democracy watchdog, told this website it was surprising that the government had kept secret the opinion despite the legislative work in the parliament.

It also said civil society should have a bigger role in monitoring the debate and the implementation of any changes.

Three months deadline

The commission, on 27 July, also issued a list of recommendations to Poland which it did subsequently make public.

It gave Poland three months to solve the threats to the rule of law under pain of potential sanctions.

The Law and Justice government had vowed to solve the crisis through a bill reforming the court, which was rushed through parliament in July. But on Thursday (11 August), the tribunal ruled that the bill was partly unconstitutional , deepening the standoff.

The commission said on Tuesday (16 August) that the Polish government had solved some, but not all, of the problems by publishing most of the rulings of the constitutional court in Poland's legal gazette earlier this week. The EU executive noted, however, that the the two most controversial judgments - of 9 March and 11 August which both say that the government's efforts to reform the court are unconstitutional - must also be published.

On Friday, Polish media reported that a prosecutor in Katowice, in southern Poland, last month initiated an investigation against the constitutional tribunal's president, Andrzej Rzeplinski, for not accepting three new judges appointed by Law and Justice to the court.

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