Lacking a majority, PiS needs the Senate to install a new Commissioner for Human Rights

Share

Journalist at OKO.press and Archiwum Osiatyńskiego

More

The Senate in opposition hands means the end of Law and Justice’s dreams of subordinating the Office of the Commissioner of Human Rights. Without the consent of senators, the new Commissioner will not take up the post in 2020 after Adam Bodnar’s current term ends. If the Senate rejects the candidates put forward by PiS, Bodnar may remain in the post of Commissioner longer. And continue to point out where PiS is breaking the law.



In the recent parliamentary elections, candidates put forward by a coalition of opposition parties won a majority in the Senate, taking 51 out of 100 seats. Law and Justice no longer dominates the upper house of the Polish Parliament.

 

The group of new senators is comprised of 43 candidates from Civic Coalition (Koalicja Obywatelska, KO), 2 from Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), 3 from the Polish Peasants’ Party (PSL), and 3 independent candidates affiliated with centre-right Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO) and liberal Nowoczesna.

 

Although the takeover of the Senate is a triumph for the united opposition, the powers of the upper house – compared to those of the Sejm – are quite restricted. Senators may slow down the Law and Justice legislative machine, but they can’t stop it.

 

The Senate does, however, enjoy some definite competences in another area raising a touchy issue for Jarosław Kaczyński’s party – the selection of a new Commissioner for Human Rights.

 

The present Commissioner, Adam Bodnar, finishes his term of office in September 2020. Without Senators’ consent no candidate submitted by the Sejm, controlled by PiS, can replace him.

 

Bodnar to remain?

 

Pursuant to Article 209(1) of the Polish constitution, the Commissioner for Human Rights is appointed by the Sejm for a five-year term, subject to the consent of the Senate. The process under which the Senate expresses its consent is specified in Article 3 of the Act on the Commissioner for Human Rights.

 

According to that provision, senators have one month from the day on which the Sejm forwards its resolution. If the Senate refuses, the Sejm must present a new candidate. The procedure repeats itself until the Senate gives its consent. The outgoing Commissioner remains in office until the new Commissioner takes up the post.

 

Adam Bodnar was appointed Commissioner for Human Rights on 9 September 2015 – just before the PO-PSL government’s term ended. He replaced Irena Lipowicz in the office. The successful candidate to replace him will have to demonstrate independence from political authorities, which the constitution requires of the Commissioner. Until the right person is found, Bodnar will continue as the acting Commissioner.

 

This would not be the first time the Commissioner’s term has been extended. In June 2005, Andrzej Zoll was supposed to leave the post of Commissioner, but the person chosen by the Sejm to replace him – Andrzej Rzepliński – was rejected by the Senate. Ultimately, Janusz Kochanowski, the candidate submitted by PiS MPs, took up the post, but not until February 2006.

 

The Sejm may attempt to amend the legislation governing the Commissioner for Human Rights. But every change that undermines the position of the Senate and its competence to give consent is a violation of the constitution. This, however, is something PiS has been quite comfortable doing in the past.

 

Commissioner a thorn in Kaczyński’s side

 

For PiS, the position of Commissioner is primarily a matter of image. During his term of office, Adam Bodnar has not hesitated to criticise the government. He has intervened in such issues as the pharmaceutical crisis, educational “reform”, pedestrian safety, temporary arrest, the reform of the criminal code being prepared by Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, propaganda by state television, the Institute of National Remembrance, and access to legal abortion procedures. On multiple occasions he has also criticised the “reform” of the judicial system.

 

The Commissioner’s role is to work in defence of human rights, including those of the LGBT community, which has been subjected to a systematic campaign of dehumanization by Law and Justice.

 

He has experienced numerous problems owing to his engagement – the authorities have accused him of political bias, threatened to remove him from office, and his budget has been cut. The height of the animosity came with the annual reports given by the Commissioner in the Sejm and Senate, where he was subjected to a harsh stream of invective. State broadcaster TVP, itself under control of the ruling PiS, also engaged in a smear campaign against him.

 

Yet despite all the pressure, Adam Bodnar has refused to be silenced.

 

“My term of office will last for another 14 months. And during that time, I will not leave the authorities alone. That’s the oath I took. I plan to make the best use of every day I have left in office. Because I’m committed to solving the real problems faced by citizens,” – he said on 9 July 2019 at a session of the Senate justice committee.

 

Bodnar’s work as Commissioner has led to his receiving multiple prestigious international awards.

 

What can the Commissioner do?

 

The Office of Commissioner for Human Rights is established by the Polish constitution which sets out the Commissioner’s powers in Articles 208–212. The Commissioner has two modes of action:

 

    • responding to submissions made by citizens (under Art. 80 of the Constitution)
    • initiating proceedings based on media reports, information about exceptional situations, or following inspections performed by the Office of the Commissioner, such as in prisons

 

The role of the Commissioner is to monitor whether public officials in Poland respect in their activities the human rights guaranteed under the Polish constitution and other relevant legal documents. According to the 2018 Annual Report of the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights, a total of 57,000 submissions and complaints were reviewed. The Commissioner intervened in issues covering the following areas:

 

    • police violence
    • hate speech
    • environmental protection
    • parents’ rights
    • building society books
    • problems facing the homeless
    • insufficient transport in rural areas
    • health service
    • access to secondary education
    • consumer rights
    • surveillance
    • exclusion from public life

 

The Commissioner can intervene in such cases to state authorities and institutions, make formal complaints regarding the misapplication of the law, and point out deficiencies in the provisions of existing legislation. The Commissioner can also apply to the Constitutional Tribunal for a declaration of incompatibility of legal acts with the constitution, as well as submit questions of law and cassation filings to the Supreme Court.

 

[translated by Matthew La Fontaine]



Author


Journalist at OKO.press and Archiwum Osiatyńskiego


More

Published

October 16, 2019

Tags

Supreme CourtDisciplinary Chamberdisciplinary proceedingsPolandrule of lawConstitutional Tribunaljudicial independenceZbigniew ZiobroEuropean CommissionCourt of Justice of the EUjudgesNational Council of the JudiciaryCourt of JusticeEuropean UnionAndrzej DudaIgor TuleyaMałgorzata Manowskadisciplinary systemMinister of JusticeCommissioner for Human RightsEuropean Court of Human RightsMateusz MorawieckiCJEUpresidential electionsjudiciaryAdam Bodnarpreliminary rulingsdemocracymuzzle lawHungaryJarosław Kaczyńskielections 2020Beata MorawiecFirst President of the Supreme CourtprosecutorsKamil Zaradkiewiczdisciplinary commissionerEuropean Arrest WarrantCOVID-19PresidentProsecutor GeneralConstitutionfreedom of expressioncriminal lawMarek SafjanOSCEWaldemar ŻurekPaweł JuszczyszynNational Public ProsecutorPiotr SchabPrzemysław Radzikcriminal proceedingsPrime MinisterJulia PrzyłębskaExtraordinary Control and Public Affairs Chambermedia freedomSupreme Administrative Courtconditionality mechanismconditionalityEU budgetCriminal ChamberLaw and JusticeprosecutionNCJNational ProsecutorelectionsWojciech HermelińskiStanisław PiotrowiczAndrzej ZollMałgorzata Gersdorfacting first president of the Supreme CourtAleksander StepkowskiOrdo IurisMay 10 2020 electionsmedia independenceAmsterdam District CourtKrzysztof ParchimowiczMaciej NawackiEAWmediaimmunityAnna DalkowskaCouncil of Europe2017freedom of assemblyFreedom HouseLech GarlickiStanisław BiernatArticle 7Venice CommissionWłodzimierz WróbelPM Mateusz MorawieckiAndrzej StępkaK 3/21P 7/20Ministry of JusticeC-791/19disciplinary liability for judgesNational Electoral CommissionGeneral Assembly of the Supreme Court JudgesPresident of PolandPresident of the Republic of PolandJarosław GowinLGBTLGBT ideology free zonesSejmBroda and Bojara v PolandMichał LasotaZuzanna Rudzińska-BluszczSylwia Gregorczyk-AbramdefamationTHEMISTVPLex Super OmniaAdam TomczyńskiBelgiumNetherlandsBogdan Święczkowskidemocratic backslidingViktor OrbanOLAFdecommunizationNext Generation EUvetopoliceJózef IwulskiLaw on the NCJJustice Defence Committee – KOSrecommendationTeresa Dębowska-RomanowskaKazimierz DziałochaMirosław GranatAdam JamrózStefan JaworskiBiruta Lewaszkiewicz-PetrykowskaWojciech ŁączkowskiEwa ŁętowskaHuman Rights CommissionerMarek MazurkiewiczCCBEAndrzej MączyńskiThe Council of Bars and Law Societies of EuropeJanusz NiemcewiczMałgorzata Pyziak- SzafnickaStanisław Rymarpublic opinion pollFerdynand RymarzAndrzej RzeplińskiSupreme Court PresidentJerzy StępieńPiotr TulejaSławomira Wronkowska-JaśkiewiczMirosław WyrzykowskireportBohdan ZdziennickiMarek ZubikDidier ReyndersEuropean ParliamentZiobroMichał LaskowskiMarek PietruszyńskiPiotr Gąciarekhuman rightscorruptionEuropean Association of Judges11 January March in WarsawCourt of Justice of the European UnionJustice FundAdam SynakiewiczcoronavirusPiSresolution of 23 January 2020Piotr PszczółkowskiJarosław WyrembakLeon KieresPKWinfringment actionEU valuesENCJlex NGOcivil societyRussiaIsraelforeign agents lawOrganization of Security and Co-operation in EuropeFirst President of the Suprme CourtLGBT free zonesequalityChamber of Extraordinary Verificationhate crimeshate speechcriminal codeGrzęda v PolandXero Flor w Polsce Sp. z o.o. v. PolandŻurek v PolandSobczyńska and Others v PolandReczkowicz and Others v. PolandRafał Trzaskowskimedia lawIustitiaKrystian MarkiewiczPrzemysła RadzikSenateMarcin WarchołElżbieta KarskaMarcin RomanowskiJacek CzaputowiczPrzemysław Czarneklegislative practiceENAZbigniew BoniekcourtsOmbudsmanKraśnikNorwayNorwegian fundsNorwegian Ministry of Foreign AffairsMichał WawrykiewiczFree CourtsC-487/19Article 6 ECHRArticle 10 ECHRRegional Court in AmsterdamOpenbaar MinisterieUrsula von der LeyenEwa WrzosekAK judgmentSimpson judgmentEU law primacyForum Współpracy Sędziówpublic broadcastermutual trustLMIrelandIrena MajcherAmsterdamthe Regional Court in WarsawUnited Nationsjudcial independenceLeszek MazurMaciej Miterapopulisminterim measuresautocratizationMultiannual Financial Frameworkabortion rulingequal treatmentabortionprotestsfundamental rightsthe NetherlandsDenmarkSwedenFinlandMariusz KrasońCT PresidentGermanyCelmerC354/20 PPUC412/20 PPUAusl 301 AR 104/19Karlsruheact on misdemeanoursCivil Service ActParliamentary Assembly of the Council of EuropeEUWhite Paperlustrationtransitional justice2018Nations in TransitCouncil of the EUmedia taxStanisław Zabłockiadvertising taxmediabezwyboruJacek KurskiKESMAIndex.huTelex.huJelenJózsef SzájerKlubrádióSLAPPLIBE CommitteeStrategic Lawsuits Against Public ParticipationFrans TimmermansGazeta WyborczaOKO.pressUS Department of StatePollitykaBrussels IRome IISwieczkowskiArticle 2Forum shoppingadvocate generalDariusz ZawistowskitransparencyEuropean Economic and Social Committeepress releaseSebastian KaletaRights and Values ProgrammeC-156/21C-157/21C-619/18Marek Piertuszyńskidefamatory statementsWorld Justice Project awardNational Prosecutor’s Officeintimidation of dissentersWojciech SadurskiBogdan ŚwiączkowskiDisicplinary ChamberjudgeTribunal of StatetransferPechOlsztyn courtKochenovPrzemysła CzarnekEvgeni TanchevEducation MinisterFreedom in the WorldKrystyna PawłowiczECJIpsosFrackowiakOlimpia Barańska-Małuszeretirement ageMariusz MuszyńskiAmnesty InternationalHudocŁukasz PiebiakRegional Court in KrakówPiebiak gateKonrad SzymańskiPiotr Bogdanowicztrans-Atlantic valuesPiotr BurasLSOauthoritarian equilibriumlawyersArticle 258Act of 20 December 2019clientelismoligarchic systemRecovery FundEuropean Public Prosecutor's Officerepressive actPolish National FoundationLux VeritatisKoen LenaertsMałgorzata BednarekPiotr WawrzykPaweł FilipekMaciej TaborowskiharrassmentMarian BanaśAlina CzubieniakSupreme Audit OfficeTVNjournalistslexTVNGerard BirgfellerBelarusEwa MaciejewskaPolish mediastate of emergencypostal votepostal vote bill