Will the convicted supervise the judges in Poland?

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Leading journalist and commentator on legal affairs in Poland, a columnist for Polityka weekly. Her latest book ‘Sędziowie mówią. Zamach…

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In the Ministry of Justice, convicted persons without a higher education degree will be able to supervise courts and judges. An amendment to this end, using the insertion method, has been included in PiS’s draft amendment to the act on misdemeanours.



The public’s attention has been drawn to the fact that the draft amendments to the act on proceedings in misdemeanour cases which have been submitted by a group of MPs from PiS and Solidarna Polska will make it impossible to refuse to accept a fine.

 

If this amendment comes into force, it will be compulsory to accept and pay on-the-spot fines. The only recourse will be to fight in court for recognition that the fine was wrongly levied. ‘In court’, in this case, means that the case might not be heard by a judge, but by a court referendary – that is, an official whose independence cannot be guaranteed.

 

In addition, evidence of guilt need not be presented by the police, the municipal police or whichever other authority that issued the ticket; but the accused, rather, will have to prove their innocence. And all their evidence of innocence must be presented together with the appeal within a seven-day period. After that, nothing more can be added.

 

There are already memes circulating on the internet: ‘Citizen, prove that you didn’t piss in a public place a year ago.’

 

Finally: failing to pay the fine becomes a separate offence, for which another fine can be levied. And so on.

 

The bill has caused public outrage, and lawyers are protesting that the presumption of innocence is being abolished – something which makes the right to a fair trial, including the right to defence, completely illusory.

 

This is a practical implementation of the police state, where the police will pronounce on both guilt and punishment.

 

We will see whether PiS can force through this change. But, as usually happens with them, they are trying to smuggle through something else in this plan.

 

A gift for Ziobro

The Minister of Justice and Prosecutor General Zbigniew Ziobro has given himself a present, thanks to an inconspicuous change to the Civil Service Actm which reads as follows:

 

“In Art. 52 of the Civil Service Act, the current content is marked as para. 1, followed by para. 2 in the following wording: The provision of paragraph, 1 point 1 does not apply to undersecretaries of state in the Ministry of Justice, through whom the Minister of Justice exercises supervision over the activities of the courts.”

 

This paragraph 1, point 1 in Art. 52 of the Civil Service Act looks completely innocent, as it lists which positions are ‘more senior’ in the civil service.

 

It is proposed that the post of undersecretary of state, who is responsible for overseeing the judiciary, should not be classified as such a ‘senior’ position.

 

Special undersecretary

 

The applicants (we can see the hand of Minister Ziobro in this case) have justified this seemingly bizarre idea – of ​​distinguishing the undersecretaries of state dealing with supervision over the judiciary from all the undersecretaries of state in numerous other ministries – by saying that it is a contradiction to the provisions of the act on the system of common courts, which allows a judge to be delegated to the Ministry of Justice.

 

“It is obvious that a judge cannot be a member of the civil service corps at the same time,” they write.

 

First, there is no requirement for an undersecretary to be a judge.

 

Secondly: this contradiction should be resolved by eliminating the delegation of judges to the ministry, something which judicial organisations – including international ones – have long demanded.

 

Delegations for judges offer a lucrative, and thus a corrupt career path, and violate the ‘Chinese wall’ that should separate the judiciary from the executive.

 

The minister can monitor the competence of the judges’ work through visiting judges, who are not paid by the Ministry of Justice for this. Moreover, the minister can supervise the work of judges as administrative units through the directors of courts who are subordinate to him.

 

But the bill states that tan undersecretary of state is no more senior than other officials who supervise the judiciary.

 

Someone with a criminal record

 

However, as a consequence, the undersecretary who supervises the courts may be a person with a criminal record, and need not have higher education.

 

This is because the next, unchanged Art. 53 of the Civil Service Act says that persons holding ‘senior’ positions as listed in Art. 52 must have a university degree and cannot have any previous convictions.

 

So, if you do not hold a ‘senior’ position while supervising judges and the judiciary, you may have a criminal conviction, and you need not even have a high school diploma.

 

In a country where the judges of the Supreme Court or the Constitutional Tribunal may be persons whom statutorily appointed judges have declared incompetent, lacking sufficient experience, who have been subject to disciplinary accusations or have even been disciplinary punished – in such a country, the fact that supervision over courts and judges can be exercised by people who are convicted and who lack higher education, does not seem so strange.

 

However, if we stop being surprised by this, then the link binding us to the standards not even of the rule of law, but even of common sense and a feeling of shame, will be broken.



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Leading journalist and commentator on legal affairs in Poland, a columnist for Polityka weekly. Her latest book ‘Sędziowie mówią. Zamach…


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Published

January 14, 2021

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