A district court in Kielce has replied to questions from the Spanish police on the independence of the judiciary and disciplinary procedures for judges. The questions were connected to an extradition procedure with regard to a man who fled the country following a sentence from a Polish court in 2013.
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The man was a serial offender, sentenced to prison for drink driving, fined and stripped of his driving license for two years. The offender did not pay the fine and left the country. The court then issued a European arrest warrant.
The Spanish police, as part of its cooperation with a Spanish court, issued the questions on September 13. These were answered on October 2. In giving his reply the Polish judge responsible stated that there was “full autonomy and no political interference in the work of the court” and that “judges could not be removed from office”.
The court also stated that there were no means by which political control could be exercised and that any verdicts could be appealed against to another court and eventually to the Supreme Court.
The spokesman for the court in Kielce informed that there would be no additional legal actions against the man convicted as the legal process was complete. He will be sent to prison based on the 2013 conviction.
Why the issue arose
In March of this year, an Irish court deciding on the extradition of a Polish subject wanted for drug trafficking asked the ECJ to rule whether the apprehended suspect could be guaranteed a fair trial in Poland. The court cited the EC’s instigation of Article 7 proceedings against Poland’s judicial reform as the reason for its question.
In July the ECJ ruled that it was up to individual courts to determine any risks to a fair trial in Poland on a case by case basis. In each such case, the court should determine the risk of any violations of human rights taking place and that the person being tried risks being unfairly tried due to any shortcomings in the legal system of the country to which the suspect is to be extradited.
It seems odd that a Spanish court should be conducting an inquisition into a Polish court over its independence when that court has no more role to play in the case. The man in question was convicted back in 2013, several years before the current rule of law dispute, and will not be tried again as the legal process is now complete (he did not appeal, he just ran). It seems that backsides are being covered to the umpteenth degree here.
However, this and other cases of delays in extradition are the price Poland is paying for the dispute over the rule of law with the EC. Defence attorneys will use the issue to try and delay or even prevent the extradition of their clients.
There is however a silver lining in this cloud for the Polish government. Since district courts are going to be replying to such questions by affirming that they feel independent and are not under any political influence, the Polish authorities will in a few months time have a strong argument in their hands against the EC - the argument that European courts have tested the Polish legal system and found it to be robust.