41 Polish Supreme Court judges with communist past: report

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The independent portal Niezależna.pl has published a list of 41 Supreme Court judges who were connected to the communist party or its secret services during the time of communism prior to 1989.

Click here to read an analysis from Poland in English.

One of the named judges was a lieutenant and then captain in the communist military who presided over cases in military courts. Judge Marian Buliński sentenced people for organizing strikes and distributing opposition publications. In 2014 he was one of the judges who produced a ‘not guilty’ verdict for a former secret police officer accused of torturing one of his prisoners.

Another Supreme Court judge, Tadeusz Ereciński was an informant for the secret police who reported ‘anti-state’ activities by esteemed Polish academics such as professors Leszek Kołakowski and Zygmunt Baumann.

Judge Anna Owczarek in turn was a communist party member from 1970s onwards and presided over a communist party cell in a district court. During the period of martial law she worked in the Ministry of Justice and was responsible for supervising sentencing. She was nominated to the Supreme Court by former President Bronisław Komorowski in 2012.

Another judge with a martial law track record is Tadeusz Płóciennik who sat on the bench in political trials against Solidarity activists. He was a member of the communist party and was the chairman of a chapter of the Polish-Soviet Friendship Society.

In the Supreme Court Judge Płóciennik has been chairing the Criminal chamber. He presided in the 2010 Supreme Court session during which the court decreed that communist crimes, including those committed by the judiciary, expired in line with terms envisaged in the Penal Code (15 years). He was also a co-author of a Supreme Court decision which exonerated judges who sentenced opposition activists for organizing strikes in the days December 13-16 1981 when the martial law decree had not yet been made effective.

The portal’s report includes information about the past of Judge Jan Bogdan Rychliński. He is alleged to have been involved in cases during the period of martial law in which many opposition activists were sent to prison. In 2013 he participated in a Supreme Court judgement which exonerated a Polish diplomat from legal responsibility for failing to declare his ties to the communist secret services.

source: NIEZALEŻNA, PAP

Comment:

The report challenges the view that the judiciary has been reformed and cleansed following communist times. The presence of people who served in sentencing Solidarity activists and were members of the communist party does not inspire confidence in the individuals concerned.

This goes to the heart of the debate that has been raging in Poland since 1989. That debate began with the over-interpreted phrase used by Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the first non-communist Prime Minister, in 1989. Speaking in Poland’s Parliament he said that a “clear line” needed to be drawn between the past and future.

Tadeusz Mazowiecki wanted to unite the country and to say there was no going back to the past. But by many it was interpreted as meaning that the past would be forgotten and forgiven. This soon became a sticking point within the victorious Solidarity camp.

The debate has raged on ever since. On one side people arguing that the past should be put aside and the country should move on. Others arguing that you cannot sweep the past under the rug and that truth about history must prevail.

The judicial reform debate fits into this like a glove. On one side people believing that all that matters is legal qualifications and not the past. On the other, people who feel that the abuses of a communist past cannot be overlooked.

If this report is factually correct, one thing is certain: a considerable number of senior judges on Poland’s Supreme Court have a past that cannot be a source of pride or confidence in the character of those who preside over important judicial business. Those who are actively working to reform the legal system in Poland will feel vindicated in their actions by this report.

This is the context to the whole judicial reform debate which, as Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki often says, the western member states, the European Commission and the judges in the European Court of Justice simply cannot understand. The institutional memory of having to deal with the Nazi past following WWII is now too far in the past for parallels to be sensed.


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