The criterion of service for a totalitarian state should be assessed on the basis of all the circumstances, including individual acts and their verification in terms of violation of fundamental human rights and freedoms, the Labour Chamber of the Supreme Court (SN) ruled on Wednesday. The ruling was in connection with the case of a former officer who served under the communist Polish People’s Republic (PRL) and was affected by the act on the reduction of pensions for those who served in such positions.
The court admitted that dealing with the communist past had also been problematic in other countries.
“It is necessary to say that the Supreme Court in its present composition shares the view that the state is legitimised to settle the accounts with the former regime, the regime which was already discredited in democratic conditions”, the justification read.
The judge rapporteur Bohdan Bieniek stressed that the court always judges “a particular man”.
"We cannot act like a totalitarian state that did not abide by any rules, did not respect any rights to a fair trial, otherwise, we will become nothing else than the exact same system we castigate,” he said.
The SN stated that when assessing the service of a given person, such criteria could be, for example, the duration of service, the period of service for the Polish People's Republic, the position and rank of the officer.
In the opinion of the Supreme Court, any doubts as regards the matter must be finally resolved, as for several years no clear guidelines have been determined on how to understand these provisions and how to apply them.
The court pointed out that it would be necessary to interpret the provisions "in accordance with the principles setting the standards of a democratic state and the rule of law".
The case was initiated by a legal question issued by the Court of Appeal in Białystok in late November in connection with an appeal against the decision of the Ministry of Interior and Administration questioning the amount of a pension of a former communist-era officer.
Pursuant to the amendment to the provisions on pensions for police and other services’ officers, which entered into force in October 2017, pensions of former officers of the security apparatus of communist-era Poland cannot exceed the average amount of the benefit paid by the Social Insurance Institution.
These regulations embraced pensions and disability pensions for the period of "service for the totalitarian state" from July 22, 1944 to July 31, 1990, resulting in about 39,000 former PRL officers getting their old-age benefits lowered. Until October 2017, many of them had been receiving benefits significantly higher than the average. The majority appealed to the courts against the decision.
Wednesday’s judgment of the Supreme Court shows the progressing anarchisation of the Polish judiciary. Courts do not make laws, but apply them, wrote Sebastian Kaleta, the Deputy Justice Minister. In his opinion, completing the judiciary reform is a necessity.
According to the ruling Law and Justice party MP Przemysław Czarnek, “individuals directly involved in the communist government apparatus until 1989, for 30 years have been protecting themselves against decommunisation with the same argumentation: collective responsibility is not possible, judge us individually”.
He pointed out that “an individual assessment solely is impossible and leads to the paralysis of the process of restoring material justice as a supreme value".
In turn, Andrzej Rozenek, MP of the opposition Left party, said that the resolution of the Supreme Court "restores the elementary principles of the rule of law of the Polish state."
"The Polish state cannot apply collective responsibility, lumping tens of thousands of people together by a single act, calling them oppressors and persuading society that they are all guilty of the persecution that took place in the previous system”, he stated.
In his opinion, by issuing the decision on Wednesday, the Supreme Court proved to be “a court that Polish women and Poles can trust”.