Ziobro’s people want to silence Judge Gąciarek for defending the free courts and Igor Tuleya
Independent Judge Piotr Gąciarek from Warsaw has been removed from adjudicating in important criminal cases. He will be assigned to a quieter division in the court. This is a demotion for him and a punishment for his bold speech in court in defence of the free courts. Ziobro’s disciplinary commissioner is also taking an interest in Gąciarek
Judge Gąciarek was removed from adjudicating in important criminal cases by the president of the Warsaw District Court, Piotr Schab, a nominee of Ziobro’s ministry and the chief disciplinary commissioner who prosecutes independent judges. The decision was made on Friday 28 May 2021.
Piotr Schab decided that Gąciarek is to be transferred against his will from the criminal division, where he currently adjudicates, to the court enforcement division. The judge is to start working there from 10 July 2021, except that he is to simultaneously finish the trials which he is currently handling.
The decision to make the transfer to the new division means that Gąciarek will no longer go out into the courtroom in important cases – he will rather work alone in his room, on documents. He will no longer be able to assess the changes introduced into the courts by the current government in his judgements.
And that is exactly what he did a week ago, critically assessing the politicised National Council of the Judiciary in the courtroom, as well as questioning the legality of its promotions of judges.
Deputy Disciplinary Commissioner Michał Lasota, a nominee of Ziobro’s ministry, is also interested in Judge Piotr Gąciorek. He is demanding explanations as to why the judge took part in a protest of the Iustitia association of judges in defence of Judges Igor Tuleya, Beata Morawiec and Paweł Juszczyszyn, who have been suspended by the illegal Disciplinary Chamber. The judge is to be blamed for postponing a hearing in a criminal trial by one day because of the protest. We write more about this later in the article.
‘What next? I expect to be harassed about various stupid things. But I will not be broken and silenced. I will continue to do what I have been doing to date. Nobody will prevent me from defending the free courts,’ Judge Gąciarek tells us.
How Judge Gąciarek undermined the new NCJ
Alongside Igor Tuleya, Judge Piotr Gąciarek is one of the most active Warsaw judges in the defence of the free courts and the rule of law. He is a member of the Warsaw branch of Iustitia. He organised pickets in defence of Judge Tuleya before the National Prosecutor’s Office. He also speaks out in the media about the bad changes in the courts. He also defended the repressed judges in demonstrations in front of the Supreme Court. He is known for his sharp tongue.
The judicial environment considers his transfer by Court President Piotr Schab – the decision was formally signed under his authority by Court Vice-President Przemysław Radzik – to the enforcement division as harassment and punishment for Gąciarek’s bravery, especially for his last speech in court.
The judge was a part of a three-person bench that heard a simple criminal case on Friday 21 May. This was about the defendant’s appeal against the refusal to revoke police supervision. The court set aside the appeal, but Judge Gąciarek filed a dissenting opinion to the ruling, stating that it had been issued by an incorrectly staffed bench. This was because Judge Stanisław Zdun, who had been promoted to the regional court by the new, politicised NCJ, was on the bench. Stanisław Zdun, is also the vice-president of the District Court for the Capital City of Warsaw, nominated by Minister Ziobro’s ministry.
In justifying his dissenting opinion, Judge Gąciarek delivered a fiery speech in defence of the Constitution, free courts and repressed judges. In it, he questioned the legality of the new NCJ and the promotions it has issued, including to Judge Zdun. He raised the allegation that the new NCJ is not defending the independence of the courts and the impartiality of judges. That it is not responding to the repressions of judges. He also criticised the judges who are currently applying for promotions.
Gąciarek: This is harassment, I will continue to defend the free courts
President Schab’s decision to move Gąciarek to another division was made just a week after his speech in the courtroom.
‘This clearly must have been the last straw. I consider the transfer to another division to be harassment. I have been handling large criminal trials for 11 years. I have experience of this. And now I am being removed from this,’ Judge Piotr Gąciarek tells us.
He will rather work alone and on documents in the new division. He will be handling the execution of sentences issued by other judges. He simultaneously has to complete the almost 20 criminal cases he is currently handling. These are trials for drugs, murders, organised crime groups and VAT fraud. The files amount to several hundred volumes each.
President Schab transferred Gąciarek to the new department without his consent.
‘But the regulations stipulate that a court president can only transfer a judge to another division without his consent if that division is considering the same cases. Enforcement cases are not the same as criminal trials,’ says Judge Gąciarek. He believes that this is about preventing him from issuing any further dissenting statements or submitting requests for preliminary rulings to the CJEU. That is why he will appeal against the transfer to the new NCJ.
Judge Gąciarek posed the question to the CJEU in the context of Igor Tuleya’s case, whose immunity had been lifted by the Disciplinary Chamber and who is suspended from the performance his judicial duties. Among other things, Gąciarek asked the CJEU whether the Court President Piotr Schab had to implement the decision of the illegal Disciplinary Chamber.
Radzik and Lasota are also asking about Gąciarek
This is not the end of Judge Gąciarek’s harassment. According to our information, a total of three of Minister Ziobro’s people are interested in him, simultaneously appearing in two different roles. They are checking the judge’s work and, if they find any faults, they can discipline him.
Just to reiterate. Piotr Schab, president of the Regional Court in Warsaw, is also the chief disciplinary commissioner. He has two deputies. These are Przemysław Radzik, who is also his deputy in the regional court (responsible for criminal cases), and Michał Lasota. And now, in addition to Schab, his two deputies are also making moves against Gąciarek.
Michał Lasota, as the disciplinary commissioner, wants to know why the judge postponed one of the cases from 18 March to 19 March 2021. Lasota’s demand looks like a search for a pretext to discipline the judge. Because the postponement of the hearing by one day did not cause any damage to the litigants. Nor did it result in a protraction of the case. But the judge did this in order to take part in the monthly protest organised by Iustitia.
Judges throughout Poland are not scheduling hearings for the 18th day of every month in solidarity with Judges Igor Tuleya, Beata Morawiec and Paweł Juszczyszyny, who have been suspended by the illegal Disciplinary Chamber.
Judge Gąciarek also demonstrated his solidarity with the unlawfully suspended judges on that day. Lasota is now demanding the minutes from the hearing, which was postponed by one day.
In turn, Przemyslaw Radzik, as the vice-president of the court, has demanded an explanation from the judge as to why he had not yet set dates for individual cases.
How Schab demanded disciplinary action for defending Tuleya
The attack on Judge Gąciarek is the result of a change in the management positions in Poland’s largest court.
It is not without cause that Ziobro’s ministry appointed Chief Disciplinary Commissioner Piotr Schab to the position of president of the court in 2020 and Przemysław Radzik, also a disciplinary commissioner, as his deputy. They are known for prosecuting independent judges for just about anything. Meanwhile, a harder line with respect to Warsaw’s judges was expected from the moment they took up their posts.
The court president and his deputy had already been taking an interest in Piotr Gąciarek earlier. Schab demanded that he be disciplined for fiercely criticising the National Prosecutor’s Office at a picket in defence of Igor Tuleya. The demand went to the deputy disciplinary commissioner at the Court of Appeal in Warsaw, but the court refused to initiate proceedings.
In turn, Przemysław Radzik, as vice-president of the court, refused to allow Gąciarek to participate in training for trainee lawyers.
How Judge Biliński was silenced
The current harassment of the judge is a well-known mechanism for silencing independent, brave judges. Judge Łukasz Biliński, who acquitted the street opposition, was silenced in a similar way. His judgments will go down in history, because he referred to the Constitution and international law in them. However, the authorities did not like them. First the Ministry of Justice liquidated the criminal division in the Warsaw court where Biliński worked. Then the president of that court, who had been nominated by Minister Ziobro, transferred him – against his will – to the family division.
Judges were being silenced in a similar way in the times of the People’s Republic of Poland. This is how attempts were made to silence Teresa Romer, now a retired Supreme Court judge, who is well-known and respected in the judicial community. In 1976, she adjudicated in the labour division and reinstated workers who had been dismissed from Ursus for participating in protests at that time. Romer’s superiors at the court began rummaging through her case files looking for shortcomings, after which she was transferred to the ‘quieter’ insurance division.
The article was posted in Polish at OKO.press on 29 May 2021.