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19th Aug 2022

European experts to probe Polish police law

The Venice Commission is travelling to Poland again.

The commission, a body of experts on constitutional law from the human rights watchdog Council of Europe, will visit on Thursday and Friday (28 and 29 April) to gather information on a police law adopted on 15 January.

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The updated police law is known in Poland as the “act of surveillance”.

Critics say it gives the police too much access to read and record people’s phone and internet data, and even standard mail.

The police also get extended rights to record video and audio in buildings and on public transport. They do not have to inform those investigated or ask courts for authorisation.

Ombudsman Adam Bodnar, Poland’s official human rights defender, asked Poland’s constitutional court for an opinion.

The delegation will meet with parliamentarians as well as representatives of the prosecutor's office, the ministries of justice and home affairs, the ombudsman and NGOs.

Council of Europe spokesman Panos Kakaviatos said the visit was of a technical nature and would form the basis of an opinion to be discussed in June, at the Council’s next plenary session.

Judicial dispute

The Polish government, led by the right-wing Law and Justice Party, has already been criticised by the Venice Commission and European Commission over its attempts to overhaul the constitutional court.

The government tried to install loyalist judges and change the rules that govern the court's verdicts.

The constitutional court refused to recognise the reforms, and the government has said it will not publish its decisions in the legal gazette.

On Tuesday, Poland’s supreme court weighed into the debate on the side of the constitutional court, saying it will respect the court's judgments whether or not they are published in the gazette.

Supreme court spokesman Dariusz Swiecki said it was a cue for lower Polish courts to follow.

Law and Justice spokeswoman Beata Mazurek insisted that rulings were not valid unless they were published by the government.

She angered critics by saying that the supreme court’s statement was of little importance.

“In reality, it was a meeting of pals that defend the status quo of the previous powers”, she stated.

Law and Justice claimed the constitutional court needed to be reformed because it was filled with appointees from the previous government.

Dispute 'becoming a war'

Mazurek said the government would appoint a committee of experts to oversee another review of the law regulating the constitutional court. Her party claims this will solve the dispute around the court.

It remains unclear whether courts will follow the supreme court’s advice. It also failed to calm some of those who worry about the risk of a duality of laws in Poland.

Journalist Michal Szuldrzynski wrote in a comment in the Rzeczpospolita daily that the supreme court's intervention was well-meaning, but it would not change the fact that the government and parliamentary majority do not recognise the constitutional court’s judgments.

“It’s not the case that Law and Justice politicians lack arguments in this conflict,” he wrote.

“Some lawyers share their arguments, not only for political reasons. The substance is that this conflict is turning into a war … and this war is ruining the Polish state.”

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