Protests in various cities following suspension of controversial judge

The suspension of controversial judge Paweł Juszczyszyn, who overstepped his jurisdiction has triggered protests, involving his fellow judges, lawyers and artists in numerous Polish cities on Sunday.

The judge, Paweł Juszczyszyn, was suspended when, following an earlier EU Court of Justice ruling, he demanded insight into support lists for candidates to the Polish Judiciary Council (KRS).

The deputy Disciplinary Spokesperson of Judges of the Public Courts, Michał Lasota brought disciplinary action against Mr Juszczyszyn on Friday. According to Mr Lasota, Mr Juszczyszyn overstepped his rights by issuing a legally groundless ruling that obliged the head of the Office of the Lower House to provide Mr Juszczyszyn with original and officially attested copies of support lists for candidates to the KRS.

Mr Juszczyszyn is accused of arrogating the right to attest the legality of the election of the KRS members. According to the Disciplinary Spokesperson, what Mr Juszczyszyn did is tantamount to the evaluation of whether the President of Poland exercised his prerogative to nominate judges in a valid and legal way. It was therefore established that Mr Juszczyszyn worked to the detriment of the public interest.

The protests

The protests took place in Warsaw, Kraków, Poznań, Gdańsk, Łódź, Lublin, Katowice, Częstochowa, Bydgoszcz, Wrocław and Szczecin, gathering a few hundred of protesters in every city. Some of the demonstrators carried EU flags and placards with slogans supporting the independence of courts.

Among the supporters of the protests was Nobel-winning author Olga Tokarczuk and the Civic Platform (PO) party’s possible presidential candidate Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska. Around 200 people participated in the demonstrations in Warsaw. According to Poland’s private broadcaster Polsat, the protests were organised by the Association of Polish Judges “Iustitia”.

Protestors were voicing their criticism of the judiciary reforms, which Poland's ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) have been enacting since 2015.

The latest reforms mean that a particular quota of KRS members is appointed by MPs and not, as before, by judges. The new appointment regulations have raised doubts as to the council's independence from political pressure. The ruling PiS holds a majority in the Lower House.

Mr Juszczyszyn, who took part in the Warsaw demonstration, told protesters that judges could not bow to political demands. "I believe law and honesty will ultimately win. I appeal to judges, don't let yourselves be intimidated, be independent, be brave," Juszczyszyn said on the steps of the Justice Ministry building.

The government maintain that the judicial reforms are necessary to raise the efficiency of courts and rid the justice system of the remnants of the communist era.

The judiciary reforms have caused friction between the EU and the PiS government. The European Commission have stated that the reforms infringe on judicial independence.

However, in the recent case of the Polish Supreme Court’s (SN) Disciplinary Chamber, the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) took a step back in late November, ruling that it is the SN’s responsibility to examine the independence of the new Disciplinary Chamber to determine whether it can hear disputes regarding judges.