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21st May 2022

Alarm raised on possible Supreme Court purge in Poland

  • Polish ruling party chairman Jarosław Kaczyński (c) (Photo: pis.org.pl)

Poland is preparing to throw out the last independent judges from its Supreme Court, a Polish judges' association fears.

Bartłomiej Przymusiński, an activist judge and a spokesman for the lustitia association, voiced the concern on Tuesday (8 September), based on recent government statements and a newspaper report.

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He noted that Jarosław Kaczyński, the chairman of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, made clear his vision for political control of the Polish judiciary in an interview at the weekend.

Remarking on one recent court verdict that he did not like, concerning a Polish soccer chief, Kaczyński said: "There is indeed in Poland a problem with rule of law, but the main sources of this state of affairs are court judgments contra legem [against the law]".

"It is our [the government's] duty to ensure that these judgments made in conflict with the law are swiftly revoked and the judges who issued them held accountable on disciplinary charges and, consequently, removed from the profession," Kaczyński added in his interview with right-wing Polish news agency niezalezna.pl.

"Kaczyński wants to make the Supreme Court into a Constitutional Tribunal duplicate, so that it's full of their own [PiS-loyalist] judges, who do exactly what they want, with no unexpected verdicts," Przymusiński told EUobserver.

If Poland's Constitutional Tribunal has been brought to heel, the Supreme Court still contained about 50 or so independent judges out of 97 in total, who "posed a problem" for PiS, Przymusiński noted.

Kaczyński already tried to get rid of them using forced retirement, but the EU court in Luxembourg blocked this last year, so now he needed a "new mechanism", Przymusiński said.

And a leading Polish daily, Rzeczpospolita, on Monday, reported that this was coming in the form of a restructuring of the Supreme Court chambers, so that just 20 to 30 judges, most likely PiS-loyal ones, would be kept on.

The Polish government has declined to confirm the report.

But Poland's deputy justice minister, Anna Dalkowska, told Rzeczpospolita: "To heal the situation in the judiciary, it is necessary to limit the number of official positions, reorganise the courts, and limit their jurisdiction".

For its part, the European Commission has launched sanctions procedures and court cases in the past three years try to stop the Polish reforms.

But even as EU institutions multiplied statements and verdicts, Kaczyński was creating new facts on the ground, Przymusiński said.

"This has worked very well for him [Kaczyński] so far, so there's no reason for him to stop, and once the [independent] Supreme Court judges are gone it will be hard to get them back, no matter what the EU says," he told EUobserver.

The EU court will, in late October, also hold a hearing to try to answer a Polish Supreme Court question - on whether politically-appointed judges can be considered judges and legally exercise their functions.

But if Kaczyński gets his way on the purge, this might be the last annoying question of its type coming from Warsaw to Luxembourg, Przymusiński noted.

"This case shows that the Supreme Court is still stuck in his [Kaczyński's] throat, but in the future, one can hardly expect the PiS-appointed judges left around to ask this type of thing," he said.

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