Designation of ad hoc judge by the ECtHR in Wałęsa v. Poland

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Former Head of the Legal Affairs & Human Rights Department of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg.

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Designation, by ECtHR Chamber President, of Judge Ktistakis as Ad Hoc Judge: Commentary by Andrzej Drzemczewski



In a solid, well-reasoned judgment in the case of Wałęsa v. Poland, rendered on 23 November 2023, a Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 6 of the ECHR, as regards Mr Wałęsa’s right to an independent and impartial tribunal established by law and the principle of legal certainty, and of Article 8 of the Convention in that the right to respect his private life had been violated.

 

Furthermore, in applying its pilot-judgment procedure, the Court specified that Poland must take appropriate legislative measures to comply with Article 6 requirements, including the principle of the independence of the judiciary. (WAŁĘSA v. POLAND (coe.int)   Zapadł wyrok ETPC w sprawie prezydenta Lecha Wałęsy | Helsińska Fundacja Praw Człowieka (hfhr.pl)).

 

As the title to this text suggests, this contribution does not relate to the merits of the judgment. Instead, it is focused on a specific procedural decision taken by the President of the said Court’s Chamber, namely the designation of the Greek Judge, Ioannis Ktistakis, to sit as an ad hoc judge in this case.

 

I have decided to do so after having come across a tweet of the outgoing Minister of Justice in which he claimed that the Court ‘itself broke the law and violated the ECHR’ by not appointing a judge from the country against which a complaint was lodged, as well as a statement issued by the Polish neo-KRS (National Council of the Judiciary) suggesting that “The ruling in this case is also questionable because of the European Court of Human Rights’ failure to comply with the Convention’s procedural standards, as the bench did not include a judge from the Republic of Poland as the state against which the complaint was directed, in violation of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.” (My translation ; full text: Krajowa Rada Sądownictwa (krs.pl).) See also, in this connection, ‘statement’ subsequently issued on the Ministry of Justice portal : Bezprawny wyrok ETPC w sprawie Lecha Wałęsy – Ministerstwo Sprawiedliwości – Portal Gov.pl (www.gov.pl), as well as the views of Professor I. C. Kamiński  on his Facebook account: (20+) Mam ogromny problem z dzisiejszym… – Ireneusz Cezary Kamiński | Facebook .

 

Fortunately, there have been healthy ‘reactions’ to these unfounded allegations, such as the article by D. Sitnicka, entitled ‘Zbigniew Ziobro and the KRS attack the Court in Strasbourg for its judgment in the Wałęsa case. Are they right?’ (in OKO.press, 25 November 2023, my translation of the title of the article written in Polish, Zbigniew Ziobro i KRS atakują Trybunał w Strasburgu za wyrok w sprawie Wałęsy. Czy mają rację? – Archiwum Osiatyńskiego (archiwumosiatynskiego.pl)), as well as comments made by, in particular, Professor R. Wieruszewski and former ECtHR staff member M. Mierzewska, in the Facebook account of Professor I. C. Kamiński). Be that as it may, how best to show that the Court had obviously not acted ultra vires (and that the Polish State authorities were fully cognisant of this)? 

 

It was relatively easy for me to do so. On the basis of a request addressed to the Court, based on Article 40 of the Convention (European Convention on Human Rights (coe.int)) and Rule 33 of the Rules of Court, I obtained access to the case file, in Strasbourg, on 30 November 2023. 

 

Here is a short chronology of the pertinent correspondence on this subject :

 

  • On 21 June 2023 the Parties to the case were informed that Mr Krzysztof Wojtyczek, the judge elected in respect of Poland, was unable to sit in this case (Rule 28 of the Rules of Court) and that the President of the Chamber accordingly decided to appoint Mr Michal Kowalski, as an ad hoc judge, pursuant to Rule 29 of the Rules of Court. 
  • On 12 October 2023, the Parties to the case were informed that, following Mr Kowalski’s correspondence with the Court in which he stated that he personally knew Ms J. Lemańska, the President of the Supreme Court’s Chamber of Extraordinary Review and Public Affairs, and that they were employed at the same Faculty of Law of the Jagiellonian Unversity, the matter of his participation in the case as an ad hoc judge was referred to the Court’s Chamber constituted to deal with this case (Rule 28 § 4Rules of Court – 30 October 2023 (coe.int)). 

 

The Chamber first studied the list of three ad hoc judges submitted by the Polish Government and it found that less than three of the persons indicated on the list satisfied the conditions laid down in paragraph 1 (c ) of Rule 29(Rules of Court – 30 October 2023 (coe.int)). 

 

In its consideration of Mr Kowalski’s participation, the Chamber took into account the fact that the applicant’s motion (i.e., that of Mr Walesa ; see § 34 of the Court’s judgmentWAŁĘSA v. POLAND (coe.int)) for exclusion of the judges of the Chamber of Extraordinary Review and Public Affairs from dealing with his case, included Mrs Lemańska. 

 

The Chamber then decided that in the particular circumstances of the case it would not be appropriate for Mr Kowalski to sit on the case as an ad hoc judge. 

 

Thereupon, the President of the Chamber decided, pursuant to Rule 29 § 2 (b) of the Rules of Court, to appoint Mr Ioannis Ktistakis, Judge elected in respect of Greece, to sit as an ad hoc judge in this case.

 

The respondent government was, as indicated, fully appraised of the manner in which the Court dealt with this procedural issue ; all these steps were described in detail in the Court’s letters to the Parties dated 12 October 2023. Hence, the contents of the tweet by the outgoing Minister of Justice was obviously unbecoming, not to say outright dishonest ; ditto as concerns the statement issued by the neo-KRS (of which Mr. Z. Ziobro is an ex officio member). 

 

The European Court of Human Rights ‘speaks’ via its judgments ; it is not for the Court or its registry – as sometimes suggested – to ‘explain itself’ with respect to various  procedural aspects of its work carried out in conformity with Convention requirement. After having consulted the Parties, the Court may not find it necessary or appropriate to specify that, e.g., a certain individual, at a particular moment in time, may lack the necessary qualities and/or professional gravitas to be appointed as an ad hoc judge (qualifications required by Article 21 § 1 of the Convention). There also exists an intrinsic logic in the Rules of Court tailored precisely so as not to make it possible for proceedings to be paralised by the existence of a list of ad hoc judges composed of  inappropriately qualified persons or when such a list does not exist. The appointment of an elected judge from another State is then envisaged in order to permit the Court to fulfil its jurisprudential tasks and ensure real and effective protection of Convention rights and freedoms (see, in particular, Rule 29 § 2). Rules of Court – 30 October 2023 (coe.int)

 

As concerns the circumstances in which this judgment will become final, see Articles 42 and 44 § 2 of the ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights (coe.int)/)

 

Andrzej Drzemczewski – Former Head of the Legal Affairs & Human Rights Department of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg.



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Former Head of the Legal Affairs & Human Rights Department of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg.


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December 6, 2023

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