Freedom House “Freedom in the World” 2019 report ranks independence of the judiciary in Poland
An annual report by the NGO Freedom House summarizes key developments surrounding the independence of the judiciary in 2018. Poland scored 1 out of 4 on this measure.
The section of the report concerning independence of the judiciary in 2018 reads as follows:
“F1. Is there an independent judiciary? 1 / 4
Since taking power in 2015, the PiS government has moved aggressively to assert control over the judiciary. One of its first steps was to pass legislation designed to curb the powers of the TK, and it subsequently refused to publish TK decisions that it considered invalid. By the end of 2016, after a lengthy dispute over the tribunal’s membership and authority, the TK was dominated by progovernment judges. In 2017, three new judicial reforms were adopted. The first gave the justice minister the power to appoint and dismiss presidents and deputy presidents of courts, a power he subsequently used several times.
The second and third reforms came into force in 2018 undermined the independence of the judiciary even further. Under one new law, parliament now appoints the majority of members to the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), which is responsible for nominating judges. Previously, judges made most nominations to the body. Of the 15 new members appointed in March, many had links to the ruling party.
In July, a new, lower retirement age for Supreme Court justices came into force, which required 27 out of 73 judges to retire unless they received presidential approval to continue. The head of the Supreme Court, Małgorzata Gersdorf, who was among the judges slated for retirement, refused to step down on the basis that Poland’s constitution guaranteed that her six-year term could not be cut short. In October, the ECJ, following an infringement procedure initiated by the European Commission (EC), ordered Poland to suspend the retirement age mandate. Consequently, the Polish parliament passed legislation reinstating the retired judges, which was signed into law by President Duda in December. However, other troubling aspects of the recent reforms remain in place, including a measure that enlarged the Supreme Court to 120 judges and created two powerful new chambers, which will be filled with judges appointed by the newly politicized KRS and could further entrench PiS’s dominance of the judiciary.
Also retained under recent reforms is a system of “extraordinary appeals” that allows cases up to twenty years old to be reopened, which could allow for retroactive, politically motivated proceedings. During 2018, there were also a number of disciplinary proceedings initiated against judges who questioned the politicization of the justice system.
The judicial reforms have raised concerns among EU member states about the independence of Poland’s judiciary and its adherence to the EU’s values. Article 7 proceedings over the rule of law in Poland, launched by the EU in 2017, received the backing of a large majority in the European Parliament in March 2018.”
Source: Freedom House