Duda’s dangerous proposition. Will some of the opposition fall into this trap?
Support from a part of the opposition for the presidential bill for revitalising the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court would, among other things, be in conflict with the recently concluded Agreement for the Rule of Law. And in conflict with the rulings of the European courts – in Luxembourg and Strasbourg.
It arises from the leaks and public statements from opposition politicians after Tuesday’s meeting with President Andrzej Duda on his bill that only Borys Budka from the Civic Coalition (KO) decidedly rejected the bill. Other participants, namely Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz (PSL), Krzysztof Śmiszek (New Left) and Hanna Gil-Piątek (Poland 2050), considered this bill to be a good start and should be worked on, because perhaps, as a result, the European Union will unblock the money for the National Reconstruction Plan.
The opposition’s fear of being accused of depriving Poland of EU money because of its lack of support for the presidential bill is understandable, but for the time being there is no question of the EU ‘buying’ the bill. However, the opposition’s support for the bill may encourage the EU to do so, which would mean a green light for the further destruction of the justice system in Poland.
The presidential bill does nothing to improve disciplinary proceedings against judges. It merely changes the name of the Supreme Court’s Chamber, where they are to be held: from ‘Disciplinary’ to ‘Professional Liability’. The President will make the decisions on the staffing of this Chamber, choosing 11 out of 36 candidates selected by lot. And there is no doubt that he will choose those who he trusts, namely the neo-judges. Perhaps adding some legitimate judge as a fig leaf. So there will be no real change in disciplinary proceedings.
The bill will worsen the situation in the so-called old chambers of the Supreme Court, because judges from the current Disciplinary Chamber created by PiS will be transferred to adjudicate in the others and will dominate them, resulting in even more legally questionable judgments.
Duda’s proposition. In conflict with the European courts
The bill also provides for another ‘scam’: the procedure for questioning a judge’s impartiality. It pretends – before the European Union – to address the rulings questioning the legitimacy of the appointments of the neo-judges. This is essentially a procedure designed to pacify such challenges. Firstly, the Muzzle Act still treats such a challenge as a disciplinary offence. Just hours ago, Judge Joanna Hetnarowicz-Sikora was suspended during a court session by order of Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro – for contesting a neo-judge’s right to adjudicate.
According to the presidential bill, the procedure for contesting a judge’s impartiality may be launched within three days of the notification (in what procedure?) of the appointment of a panel adjudicating in the case. Further: the circumstances of a judge’s appointment cannot be the only grounds for challenging his rulings. This is in conflict with the judgments of the Court of Human Rights: in the Reczkowicz, Dolińska-Ficek and Ozimek and Advance Pharma cases. In the judgment of the last of these cases (after all, issued on the day of the announcement of the presidential bill) the ECtHR announced that the matter of defectiveness of judicial appointments in Poland (with the involvement of the neo-NCJ) is a structural problem and the government needs to expect that all such complaints to the ECtHR will be accepted. And, on Tuesday, it issued an interim order suspending the hearing before the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court on lifting the immunity of Włodzimierz Wróbel, Supreme Court Judge of the Criminal Chamber (pretext: the prosecutor’s office is blaming him for a mistake made by an employee of the secretariat), because the Chamber consists entirely of neo-judges.
The appointment of neo-judges was also questioned by the Court of Justice of the EU in its responses to requests from Polish courts for preliminary rulings – including in the case filed in the Supreme Court by Judge Waldemar Żurek. Therefore, President Duda is proposing a solution that is in conflict with EU law. Judgments of the CJEU and of the ECtHR are a part of this law, because the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights is a part of EU law.
Do not squander several years of the struggle over the rule of law
The presidential bill introduces a new disciplinary offence: ‘the refusal to administer justice’ – a stick to beat judges who refuse to be members of panels with neo-judges in order to reduce the number of defective judgments and therefore protect the rights of those on trial.
The presidential bill is also fundamentally in conflict with the Agreement for the Rule of Law, which all the opposition groups joined in December. The Agreement, to which social organisations, including the organisations of judges and the association of prosecutors, Lex Super Omnia, are also parties, requires the signatories to sanitise the judiciary, the basis of which is the challenge of the defective system of judicial appointments. The bill submitted to the Sejm by KO and the New Left two days ago within the framework of the Agreement, provides for the revocation of appointments made by the neo-NCJ by law. Therefore, it does not recognise neo-NCJ judges as being judges. Since this is the case, how can the Left now publicly take the presidential bill at face value? How can it legitimise it in this way, informing the EU that the bill could be the thing that will cause it to withdraw the ultimatum given by the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen?
She set three conditions in the ultimatum: the commitment to liquidate the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, changes in the disciplinary system, and the reinstatement of the ousted judges (the presidential bill provides that the suspended judges will be able to appeal to the Professional Liability Chamber – namely to neo-judges).
The CJEU will announce its verdict in a few days – on 16 February – in the case regarding the compatibility of the ‘money for the rule of law’ mechanism with EU law. Does the opposition want to block its application?
The fear of displeasing some voters for blocking EU money is understandable. But is it worth squandering several years of efforts of persuading the EU to activate the instruments available to it to protect the rule of law just to receive this EU money – which, as a matter of fact, the government could spend in such a way as to strengthen its power? Efforts for which judges and prosecutors paid the highest price, having their careers and personal lives ruined. Do politicians from some of the opposition have the moral right to do this?
The article was published in Polish by Polityka weekly.