EC criticises Poland for newest court reforms

First Vice-President of the European Commission heftily criticised Poland’s recent court reforms at a Brussels debate on the rule of law in Poland and Romania, Polish news agency, PAP, states.

Justice Minister defends disciplining judges

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Frans Timmermans especially criticised last week’s changes to laws regulating the work of Poland’s National Judicial Council (KRS), which exclude appeals against the council’s appointments of judges to the Supreme Court. Timmermans pointed out that the change had not been consulted with Brussels nor Poland's judges.

According to PAP, the rule of law will be on the agenda of next week’s EC debate pending the EU summit in Sibiu, Romania.

However, Poland’s justice minister said measures to discipline judges are designed to fight “pathological” behaviour and are less political than those in neighbouring Germany.

Minister Zbigniew Ziobro was speaking to the media in April after the European Commission decided to launch an infringement procedure against Poland over a new disciplinary regime for judges.

However, Mr Timmermans’s criticism follows a protracted rule of law conflict between the EC and Poland, whose judicial reforms the Commission has found to infringe on judicial independence. According to Poland’s opposition, the amendments to the KRS regulations run against the rule of law and the Polish constitution, and are meant as security against possible negative rulings by the EU Court of Justice.

In December 2017, Poland’s lower house (Sejm) of parliament adopted an amendment to the law on the KRS introducing new rules for the selection of KRS member judges.

The amendment introduced selection by the Sejm of 15 member judges for a joint four-year term, previously they were selected by members of the judiciary themselves. The first sitting of the KRS chosen under the new rules occurred in late April 2018.

Also in December 2017, the EC launched the EU Treaty’s Article 7 rule-of-law procedure against Poland over some of the reforms which, in its opinion, infringed on the independence of courts. The procedure could potentially lead to sanctions for Poland, including the loss of its EU voting rights, but all EU countries would have to agree.