An interview with Judge Anna Bator-Ciesielska, who refuses to adjudicate with Radzik. “I’m not afraid. My oath is to the Republic.”
Judge Anna Bator-Ciesielska was the first justice in Poland to adjudicate with a judge whose name arose in conjunction with a smear campaign against independent judges. Bator-Ciesielska is already being prosecuted by the disciplinary spokesman, but in an interview with Mariusz Jałoszewski of OKO.press she says that judges must have a conscience, and that she is not afraid because judges cannot be afraid.
“When I was training to become a judge, I was taught that a judge is not there to please anyone. Courts are to operate according to the rules and the law, it cannot favour anyone. Neither I nor my decisions and the rulings I issue as a judge on behalf of the Republic of Poland have to please anyone. This isn’t what courts are for,” says Judge Anna Bator-Ciesielska.
“Am I destabilizing the legal order in Poland? I’m not that influential. I haven’t even read Radzik’s statement because I’m overwhelmed with work,” she adds (the entire interview is published below).
On Friday, 30 August 2019, Judge Bator-Ciesielska from the 10th Criminal Division of the District Court in Warsaw made a landmark decision. As the head of a three-judge panel, she declared that there were formal barriers to Judge Przemysław Radzik sitting in the panel.
He is a regional court judge from Krosno Odrzańskie, delegated by the Ministry of Justice to adjudicate in Warsaw, in the largest court in Poland. Radzik is also the deputy disciplinary spokesman and is known for persecuting independent judges for even the most innocuous public statements.
But this was not the reason behind Bator-Ciesielska’s decision.
She determined that she could not adjudicate together with him in a case involving robbery because of doubts concerning his independence and the unimpeachable character that a judge is required to possess.
Bator-Ciesielska’s doubts about Radzik arose following his name appearing in the media. According to Gazeta Wyborcza, Radzik and the second deputy disciplinary spokesman Michał Lasota (himself delegated to the Warsaw court) allegedly participated in a group called “Kasta” that communicated via a popular internet messenger application.
This group has also been alleged to include judges from the Ministry of Justice and the new National Council of the Judiciary (NCJ). Some participants in the group supposedly discussed smear campaigns against independent judges. Radzik himself denies taking part in the slandering of judges and has said he is considering taking legal action.
However, Bator-Ciesielska decided that until those doubts were resolved, Radzik should not perform his office as a judge. Radzik replied to this on Monday 2 September with a sharp statement in which he called on the new NCJ, the Minister of Justice and Prosecutor General Zbigniew Ziobro and the disciplinary spokesman to help. He demanded that proceedings be initiated against Bator-Ciesielska.
The reaction was not long in coming. The next day, Tuesday 3 September, Radzik’s superior – the chief disciplinary spokesman Piotr Schab – reacted by initiating an investigation. He will examine the decisions taken by Bator-Ciesielska, and if he considers them inappropriate, he may bring disciplinary charges against her.
Full interview: “I’m not afraid, a judge can’t be afraid”
Mariusz Jałoszewski: Why do you refuse to adjudicate with justice Przemysław Radzik, who was delegated by the Ministry of Justice to the Warsaw court together with the second deputy disciplinary spokesman, Michał Lasota?
Judge Anna Bator-Ciesielska: A few days ago, I watched an interview on television with First President of the Supreme Court Małgorzata Gersdorf. She said that judges whose names appear in the media in the context of a smear campaign against judges should not be allowed to adjudicate on behalf of the Republic of Poland until matters are clarified. Last Friday, I was supposed to adjudicate in a robbery case with Przemysław Radzik.
Formally, we have postponed this case due to suspicion that one of the defendants is in hiding. However, I later informed the parties present at the court that there were other obstacles. Namely, there are doubts as to the independence of one of the judges [Radzik – ed.].
I’m not deciding whether Radzik can adjudicate. I’m not judging anybody, but after what the media wrote and what allegedly went on in the Ministry of Justice, there was no other decision I could take.
When I was appointed to the bench, I took a vow of conscience.
And my conscience does not allow me to issue a ruling in such a panel.
Because it may impact the defendants, who have the right to a trial before an impartial and independent court.
I’m not only interested in what’s in the files of cases that I’m hearing. And if what the media are writing is true about the smear campaign against judges, then every line has been crossed.
You filed a request with the departmental secretariat to ask other judges from your department whether they want to adjudicate with Przemyslaw Radzik and Michal Lasota.
In my application, I requested the head of the secretariat to ask other judges for their opinion. If they do not want to adjudicate, the matter will be referred to the head of the department. And the chief justice, if he considers it appropriate, may request the president of the District Court in Warsaw to consider submitting a motion to the Ministry of Justice to withdraw the delegation [of Radzik and Lasota] to adjudicate in our court.
And on Monday 2 September, you forwarded a prejudicial question to the CJEU concerning the Radzik matter.
Yes, the question is whether the provisions, in particular those of the Common Courts Act, concerning the delegation of judges to higher courts are compatible with EU law. Because the Ministry of Justice makes such decisions without oversight and the decisions themselves may be arbitrary. There are concerns that such regulations may impact judicial independence.
Przemysław Radzik didn’t like your decision. He accused you of abusing your office and even destabilising the legal order of the Republic.
When I was training to become a judge, I was taught that a judge is not there to please anyone. Courts are to operate according to the rules and the law, it cannot favour anyone. Neither I nor my decisions and the rulings I issue as a judge on behalf of the Republic of Poland have to please anyone. This isn’t what courts are for.
Am I destabilizing the legal order in Poland? I’m not that influential. I haven’t even read Radzik’s statement because I’m overwhelmed with work.
Aren’t you afraid of the consequences? First, on Monday, Radzik, formally as a judge, but on the letterhead of the deputy disciplinary spokesman, calls on the new NCJ, Minister Ziobro and the disciplinary spokesman to help him. And on Tuesday, Radzik’s boss, the chief disciplinary spokesman Piotr Schab, starts an investigation against you, which may result in disciplinary charges being filed. Schab, Radzik and Lasota were appointed as spokesmen by Minister Ziobro.
I’m not afraid, a judge can’t be afraid. My decisions speak for themselves. I can’t be afraid now that someone might try and punish me. If the need arises, I’ll be happy to explain my rulings to the disciplinary spokesman.
If there’s anything I’m afraid of, honestly speaking, it’s that some false information about my family will suddenly find its way onto the internet.
Have you ever been involved in defending free courts before? Many judges are now paying a high price for this. The organized smear campaign against them was a sort of retaliation for defending the courts against the rule of the Law and Justice party.
Like many judges, I belong to Iustitia. I also stood holding a candle in front of the Supreme Court when the time came to do so. I didn’t get more deeply involved.
Until the end of 2017, I was the president of the District Court for Warsaw-Żoliborz. My term of office expired; in other circumstances I might have stayed for a second term. I have been a judge for 22 years. I have tried criminal cases, including against gangsters.
I will celebrate the anniversary of passing the examination to become a judge on 17 September. Paradoxically, that same day I am scheduled to adjudicate in a panel with the second deputy disciplinary spokesman, Michał Lasota.
[translated by: Matthew La Fontaine]