Prosecutor disciplined for participation in demonstration in defence of Supreme Court wins with National Prosecutor’s Office
Prosecutor Piotr Wójtowicz from Legnica will not be formally disciplined for his appearance at a protest in defence of the Supreme Court. On Tuesday, the disciplinary court for prosecutors rejected the appeal of National Prosecutor Bogdan Święczkowski, who was seeking to punish Wójtowicz.
This ruling of the Disciplinary Court for prosecutors sets a precedent and will impact similar cases in the future. It has also demonstrated the limits of National Prosecutor Bogdan Święczkowski’s power.
On Tuesday the Disciplinary Court not only rejected Święczkowski’s appeal, but also took a positive view of Wójtowicz’s appeal, in which he sought to have the charges entirely dismissed.
Consistent with his wishes, the Disciplinary Court ruled that his participation in a demonstration in the defence of judicial independence did not constitute a disciplinary infraction.
Applause after the ruling
The ruling was unanimous, and was issued by a panel of three prosecutors: Elżbieta Krężołek, Damian Gross and Sebastian Chmielewski.
Observers at the announcement of the ruling, primarily activists of the “Free Prosecutors” initiative, greeted it with an ovation. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You gave me the strength to come to Warsaw,” a visibly moved prosecutor Wójtowicz said after the judgment was given.
“I am satisfied with the ruling,” he told OKO.press.
The case of prosecutor Wójtowicz has made news around Poland, owing to the degraded prosecutor’s fight for his professional dignity against National Prosecutor Bogdan Święczkowski, who is also right-hand man of Prosecutor General Zbigniew Ziobro.
The case was a demonstration of how much freedom line prosecutors enjoy, as well as of whether there are some prosecutors more equal than others and where the limits of free speech are.
Demonstration in defence of courts in Legnica
Piotr Wójtowicz worked for the appellate prosecutor’s office in Wrocław and was head of the Circuit Public Prosecutor’s Office in Legnica. When Zbigniew Ziobro took control of the public prosecutorial service, Wójtowicz was demoted and sent to work as a line prosecutor in Legnica.
Today he is a member of the association of independent prosecutors Lex Super Omnia, a group defending the honour of the prosecutorial service, and which is a harsh critic of Zbigniew Ziobro and his supporters.
In July 2017, he attended a demonstration by KOD in front of a Legnica courthouse. This was a very intense period throughout the country, with protests at courthouses around Poland in defence of the Supreme Court and the National Council of the Judiciary, at the time targets of the ruling Law and Justice party.
Perhaps Wójtowicz’s presence at the Legnica demonstration would have gone unnoticed if it were not for the local media. One website reported his joking remark: “I don’t have anything to lose. What will they do to me? Ship me to Ełk?”
In connection with his presence at the KOD demonstration and the quote in the media, the disciplinary spokesman examined whether Wójtowicz had violated the principle of neutrality and the prosecutorial code of ethics. In 2018, however, he discontinued the case, declaring that Wójtowicz’s actions were not harmful.
Both Bogdan Święczkowski and Wójtowicz himself lodged appeals. Święczkowski considered that Wójtowicz had violated the principle of apoliticality, as well as harmed public trust in the office of the prosecutor and its neutrality. In Święczkowski’s view, the KOD demonstration was not apolitical.
The National Prosecutor also felt that the unauthorized statement by Wójtowicz referenced the changes taking place in the prosecutorial service and his personal situation, while for Wójtowicz to discuss the prosecutorial service he would need authorization from his superiors. This is why he sought a repeal of the decision to dismiss the case by the disciplinary spokesperson.
Wójtowicz appealed as well
Wójtowicz appealed because, although he agreed with the ruling itself, he negated its legal basis. He argued that he did not break the law nor ethical principles, because as a citizen he has the right to participate in apolitical gatherings.
His statement was unauthorized. It was made in the context of a manifestation concerning independence of the courts, not changes in the prosecutorial service. That is why he did not need the consent of his superiors.
Cleared of wrongdoing
At the hearing on 11 June 2019, three defenders represented Wójtowicz: prosecutor Jacek Bilewicz, member of the Board of Lex Super Omnia, judge Piotr Gąciarek from the Circuit Court in Warsaw and member of Iustitia, and attorney Joanna Jakubowska-Siwko, associated with the Committee for the Defence of Justice. They all appeared pro bono.
At the trial, Gąciarek recalled that in 2017 there were demonstrations throughout Poland in defence of the courts, including the Supreme Court. He emphasized that it was a duty of lawyers – including prosecutors – to defend their independence.
He added that people were proven right then, because the authorities stepped back from some of the “reforms”. He said that a prosecutor could do his job properly only before an independent court. Therefore, Wójtowicz’s participation in a peaceful demonstration could not be evaluated negatively.
He appealed to the disciplinary court before issuing its decision that the members of the court should be guided by their conscience, and not the political bias of the National Prosecutor.
Attorney Jakubowska-Siwko emphasized the unprecedented nature of the case. She said that the decision would affect the reputation of the prosecutorial service by demonstrating whether double standards are applied there.
In other words, this concerns Bogdan Święczkowski, whom no one has charged for having stood in elections as a candidate of Law and Justice and supported the party.
Prosecutor Bilewicz added that Wójtowicz is a member of Lex Super Omnia and has the right to speak out on public matters.
After their remarks, the disciplinary court issued its ruling in Wójtowicz’s favour. The court did not announce its reasons for the judgement, with everything detailed in the written verdict.
Importantly, the disciplinary court emphasized that the ruling in Wójtowicz’s was final. This means that his case has been discontinued, just as the Legnica prosecutor wanted.
However, it cannot be ruled out that Święczkowski will try to challenge this ruling in the Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Chamber, which was established by Law and Justice.
[translated by Matthew La Fontaine]