President Andrzej Duda’s attack on Polish constitutional court
On 3 July, the President of Poland Andrzej Duda visited Lwówek Śląski and gave a speech in which he criticized the activity of the Constitutional Tribunal, whose ruling from 2014 recognized the conformity of a gradual increase in the retirement age with the Polish Constitution.
In 2012, the previous government introduced an important pension system reform increasing the retirement age to 67 years for men and women. The constitutionality of this legal change was questioned by the Law and Justice (PiS) MPs, including Andrzej Duda, who lost the case.
President Andrzej Duda made the following comment:
“I have no doubt that the Constitution was also violated by the actions of the Constitutional Tribunal, when it ruled that increasing the retirement age of all Poles against their will is in accordance with the Constitution, because that’s what it ruled. Was the Tribunal acting in the name of Polish society and the Polish state? Or did it rule for some narrow ruling caste, aligned with that group’s interests at that time? I think that everyone can answer this question.”
The Constitutional Tribunal is responsible for resolving disputes on the constitutionality of statutory law. It also responds to constitutional complaints and adjudicates on disputes over the power of other constitutional bodies. The President, questioning the correctness of the Constitutional Tribunal’s decision, damage the credibility of an institution requiring public trust. President Duda’s statement triggered responses by former and current judges.
Stanisław Biernat, a former judge of the Supreme Administrative Court, the Constitutional Tribunal and a member of the panel of judges adjudicating on the matter of the retirement age stressed that he felt a moral duty to speak, and posed several questions to President Duda, including:
“How is the President entitled to state decisively, without any justification, that the Constitutional Tribunal’s judgment is inconsistent with the Constitution? Is it consistent with the position assigned to him by the Constitution?”
“Did the President read and rethink the justification of the judgment in Case K 43/12, numbering 98 pages, before deciding to offend the Tribunal, as well as the transcript of the hearing in which he was supposed to participate [as a member of parliament from PiS], numbering 143 pages?”
“Could the President explain his shocking accusation that the Tribunal did not act in the name of Polish society and the Polish state?”
Moreover, eleven former and current judges of the Constitutional Tribunal emphasized that the President’s speech “must meet with [their] firm protest and opposition”.
“It is unwise to suggest that the content of judgments of the judiciary should be determined after consultation, in an undefined manner, with citizens. Such a case would shift the activity of the judicial authorities from the sphere of settling what is just and right to the sphere of political decisions, inevitably influenced by politicians fighting for power in the state.”
In their statement, the representatives of the Constitutional Tribunal drew attention to the ethical importance of responsibility for their words, especially those spoken in public, and referred to the “immoderate criticism” that this institution and the judiciary in general have encountered in recent years.
“Discrediting the activities of the Tribunal, when it acted independently, violates the common good and undermines the foundations of the legal culture in society.”
“Judges [ruling in the verdict of 7 May 2014 on the increase to the retirement age], both advocating for resolution and submitting dissenting opinions, were guided by their assessment of compliance with the Constitution of the Republic of Poland in accordance with their conscience, their own knowledge and life experience. We do not have knowledge of any other factors.”
President Duda’s words are one of many examples of undermining trust in Poland’s judicial institutions. So far, the important questions asked by Stanislaw Biernat remain unanswered.
[by Barbara Sip]