Extraordinary meeting of the new National Council for Judiciary. ‘A tribute of surrender’.
The new, politically elected National Council of the Judiciary will meet at an extraordinary session next Monday, 28 August. It was called by Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro to oppose what he claims to be the ‘politicisation of the judiciary.’ The NCJ is also expected to support Ziobro in further ‘reforming’ the courts. ‘This meeting will be a tribute of the NCJ’s surrender to Ziobro,’ Iustitia’s press officer tells Onet.
by Magdalena Gałczyńska, published in Onet.pl
- This is the justice minister’s first request to call an extraordinary session of the NCJ. When he issues one, the council must comply with it.
- However, the chair of the NCJ and Ziobro’s schoolmate, Dagmara Pawełczyk-Woicka, reacted extremely quickly. Ziobro made his request on 14 August, while the decision on the extraordinary session of the Council was made just three days later.
- According to the Council’s communication, the topic of the NCJ’s session is to be ‘the progressing politicisation of the judiciary and the application of double standards by certain judges.’
- The pretext for Ziobro to convene the extraordinary session of the NCJ was what he considers to be the ‘scandalous’ ruling of a Warsaw court, which discontinued proceedings in the case of assault and battery on an anti-abortion van driver.
- Also, the case of Marika’s conviction for attempted homophobic mugging, and Ziobro’s actions to protect TVP employees Magdalena Ogórek and Rafał Ziemkiewicz, who were convicted of defamation, are in the background. Ziobro fiercely attacked the courts in both of these cases.
Zbigniew Ziobro requested on 14 August that an extraordinary meeting of the politically elected National Council of the Judiciary be called. Just three days later, the chair of the NCJ and Ziobro’s schoolmate, Dagmara Pawełczyk-Woicka, called this additional meeting for 28 August.
According to a communication from the Ministry of Justice, the reason cited by Ziobro for requesting the extraordinary meeting is that allegedly ‘certain judges are applying their own political views instead of the law. Instead of adjudicating within the limits of the law, they are committing acts of lawlessness.’
‘There are rulings issued for clearly political motives. There is a proliferation of acquittals or extremely lenient sentences, even in cases of serious, violent crimes. This applies to aggressors from the opposition, the leftist and LGBT communities. The courts excuse their attacks on people who hold opposing views,’ wrote Ziobro in the request to the head of the new NCJ. He added that ‘it is simultaneously easy to point to judgments in which the courts demonstrate harshness against supporters of traditional values, opponents of the LGBT ideology and the opposition’s critics, or judges themselves.’
‘I’m ashamed that the minister needs to be reminded of the basic knowledge. Judges are independent.’
‘While performing the duties of their office, judges are independent and only subject to the Constitution and statutes,’ Independent Senator Krzysztof Kwiatkowski, a member of the NCJ, tells Onet.
‘I’m ashamed that the minister of justice has to be reminded of such a basic matter, because it is enshrined in the Constitution. In his statements, he accuses judges of alleged “politicisation”, while he, himself, assesses judgments passed by an independent court. The minister’s assessment is based not on merit, but on political criteria,’ Kwiatkowski points out.
‘This is an unacceptable situation, and there should never have been a request to hold a meeting of the NCJ on this matter. However, if the NCJ does hold the meeting on this matter, it should only pass a resolution calling on the minister of justice to desist from such actions and statements,’ emphasises the senator.
‘It is the NCJ, based on the provisions of the Constitution, that stands on guard of judicial independence. If, as today, this independence is threatened by such statements of the minister, it is the Council that should react,’ says the member of the NCJ elected by the Senate.
He emphasises that he does not remember the Council ever having been convened in the context of specific court rulings, at the request of the minister of justice.
Ziobro’s campaign attacks on the courts
The direct reason mentioned outright in Ziobro’s letter to the NCJ for requesting an extraordinary meeting of the NCJ is the judgment of the Regional Court in Warsaw. The one passed in late July upholding the decision of the district court, which discontinued the case of alleged assault and battery on the driver of an anti-abortion, namely a pro-life, truck. The attack took place shortly after the death of Agnieszka from Częstochowa, who died of sepsis at the beginning of 2022, after a hospital allegedly delayed the removal of dead twin foetuses from her body.
The court in Warsaw ruled in July this year that the attack on the anti-abortion van driver was caused by strong emotions, while its social harm was negligible.
Ziobro said such a verdict discontinuing the case was scandalous and an ‘act of lawlessness.’
‘This is a manifestation of double standards and a dangerous sign that politics has entered the courtrooms for good. The situation is illustrated by two telling incidents,’ Ziobro wrote in his statement. ‘On the one hand – the draconian sentencing of a young student, a first-time offender, to three years imprisonment for snatching a purse with an LGBT symbol. On the other – the guarantee by the courts of impunity for the perpetrator of brutal assault and battery of the pro-life organisation’s van driver, by discontinuing the proceedings,’ he argued.
‘The politicised judges make the assumption that, since the opposition in Poland and the European Union support the LGBT communities and abortion, those who disagree with such views can be insulted, shaken about, beaten up, and have their property damaged without punishment. When disproportionately lesser damage befalls the other side – severe punishments are dealt out and thunderous condemnation is heard,’ Ziobro argued while requesting the extraordinary session of the NCJ.
Further rulings Ziobro does not like. He calls the NCJ to the rescue
The case of the anti-abortion van driver is not the only recent verdict that Ziobro did not like. Another case is the sentencing of Marika, a right-wing activist, to three years imprisonment for attempted homophobic robbery. Namely hooliganism, as stipulated in the Penal Code, amended as Ziobro wanted.
Under this code, the minimum penalty for attempted hooligan robbery is precisely 3 years imprisonment. That was the penalty requested by the prosecutor’s office, which is subordinated to Ziobro, and that was the sentence passed by the court.
But Ziobro attacked the judge who passed the sentence, fired the deputy head of the prosecutor’s office who drafted the indictment, and called the whole case a ‘judicial robbery.’ He ordered the trawling of the files to establish what sentences the judge who convicted Marika had passed, and himself released her from prison, ordering a break in her sentence. The request for Marika’s clemency, which is supported by Ordo Iuris, has already been sent to the President.
Another verdict that Ziobro very much disliked was the conviction of the government TVP employees. Magdalena Ogórek and Rafał Ziemkiewcz, who allegedly defamed social activist Elżbieta Podleśna. In this case, Ziobro filed an extraordinary complaint with the Supreme Court. This could mean that the conviction of the TVP employees will simply disappear; they themselves will remain innocent, because this, their acquittal, is precisely what Ziobro has requested of the Supreme Court.
Undesirable conduct of judges? The head of the NCJ speaks as Ziobro would. ‘She is under his thumb’.
‘I cannot imagine that we will get together, discuss the matter and go our own separate ways. We, as the Council, will not reform the judiciary, because this is not our job. However, we can speak up in the discussion and react to undesirable conduct of judges. And we will do that,’ is how the head of the NCJ, Dagmara Pawlak-Woicka, responded in an interview with Rzeczpospolita to Ziobro’s request to call an extraordinary meeting of the Council.
‘It appears that issuing rulings may be ‘undesirable conduct’ of judges. The head of the NCJ has shown that she is under Ziobro’s thumb,’ Judge Bartłomiej Przymusiński, press officer of the Iustitia Association of Judges, tells Onet.
‘It was precisely the chair of the NCJ who willingly and shortly after Ziobro’s request called an extraordinary session of the Council. This shows that the current NCJ is nothing more than a conveyor belt for the minister of justice,’ the Iustitia press officer emphasises.
‘The ruling party have not once in eight years addressed the real reform of the courts that the Poles expect. Instead, they placed their nominees in the courts, with the help of the politically appointed NCJ,’ says Judge Przymusiński. ‘This session of the NCJ will be another tribute of surrender to Ziobro. People have less and less money, including because of the lack of funds from the NRRP. And meanwhile, the NCJ is putting on a political show together with Ziobro, instead of resigning in full. Only this would realistically bring us closer to receiving the EU money,’ concludes the Iustitia press officer.
Translated by Roman Wojtasz