Free Courts, Free People – report by Amnesty International
Awareness of the changes in the Polish judicial system implemented by the ruling party, Law and Justice, is growing both domestically and internationally.
The recent report published by Amnesty International, titled ‘Poland: Free Courts, Free People’, focuses on actions and regulations undermining judicial independence, such as forced retirement of Supreme Court judges, politicization of the appointment of judges, and abuse of disciplinary proceedings against judges and prosecutors. The latter are faced mostly by those who publicly defend the freedom and independence of courts, in media statements, public demonstrations or by issuing rulings in favour of peaceful protesters. “The Polish authorities have conducted a witch hunt, working behind the scenes to intimidate and smear the Polish judges and prosecutors who have courageously protested against the political hijacking of the judiciary. This harassment has to stop immediately,” said Barbora Černušáková, Regional Researcher at Amnesty International.
The report is divided into sections discussing the impact on judges, politicization of the judiciary, the situation of prosecutors, the impact on people and the response of the European Union. It presents ten individual cases of disciplinary proceedings against judges and prosecutors, basing the analysis on interviews with the subjects of the proceedings, their lawyers, activists, the Disciplinary Spokespersons for Common Courts and other data. A detailed timeline of the changes to the judicial system is presented alongside an illustration of how the new system of disciplinary proceedings operates. The procedures by the European Commission against Poland are also described, as most of them relate directly to judicial independence. Furthermore, a set of recommendations is issued by Amnesty International to the Polish government. These include:
- Immediately stop using disciplinary proceedings against judges and prosecutors merely for their exercise of the right to freedom of expression, for their rulings and other legitimate activities directly linked to their work.
- Review the new system of disciplinary proceedings to ensure they are independent from the government, in particular the Minister of Justice, and not used as retaliatory action or other forms of pressure and harassment against judges.
- Amend the Law on the National Council of the Judiciary to ensure that members who are judges are elected by their peers and not by the executive and/or the parliament.
- Take immediate and concrete steps to restore and guarantee the independence of the Supreme Court.
What follows is a comprehensive analysis of individual cases of disciplinary proceedings initiated against judges and prosecutors, including the one concerning judge Frąckowiak, which was widely covered by the media in Poland and proved to be highly controversial.
A detailed study is presented of the respective sections and institutions of the judicial system, in which changes by the Law and Justice party were implemented undermining the freedom of courts and other violations, namely the National Council of the Judiciary, the Supreme Court, the New Disciplinary Proceedings, and International Standards and EU law.
The full report can be downloaded here.
[by Martyna Olejnik]