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Polish Conservatives push for reform of justice

Reading Time: 3 minutes

By Olivier Bault.

Poland – It was a promise and the project had been announced more than a year ago: the PiS is trying to quickly impose three major reforms of the Polish judicial system. The first concerns the appointment of presidents of ordinary courts throughout the country: the Minister of Justice, who is also the Attorney General, shall have more freedom in appointments and dismissals. The judges of the courts concerned will no longer have a say and the National Judicial Council (KRS) will be able to block appointments only by a two-thirds majority instead of an ordinary majority. Judges who are members of this KRS will no longer be nominated by the judicial institutions but will be chosen from among these judicial institutions by the Parliament, by a qualified majority of 3/5 (a condition imposed by President Andrzej Duda, in order to avoid that the KRS passes under the control of a political party). Judges of the Supreme Court will no longer be co-opted but appointed by the KRS. The new provisions also aim to prevent judges from obstructing disciplinary proceedings against their colleagues.

For the Law and Justice party, the challenge is to establish democratic control over the third power and to put an end to the corporatism of judges and the impunity enjoyed by judges guilty of political militancy, corruption or incompetence. It is also a question of finally purging the judicial institution of its judges and prosecutors who were already pronouncing judgments under the martial laws of the 1980s, and who put political opponents in prison. Some of such judges are even members the Supreme Court. In order to kick the anthill, the PiS goes even further, as it plans to shorten the mandate of its members in order to speed up its renewal, under the pretext of reorganizing the KRS and the Supreme Court.

As might be expected, this makes one part of the opposition (the same one that caused the parliament to freeze in December-January) use all possible means to block these three reforms. As in December, the Liberals call on the Poles to take to the streets, but with mixed success: at most a few thousand demonstrators in front of the Diet at the climax, but a few hundred or even a few tens most of the time. After the conflict over the Constitutional Court, the Liberal opposition claims that it is now under the control of the PiS and no longer guarantees impartial decisions on the constitutionality of laws, and the leaders of the liberal parties PO and Nowoczesna cry out to the dictatorship and are appealing once again to Brussels to block reforms they consider unconstitutional. As might be expected, the European Commission has been quick to intervene and is already exerting pressure even before these bills have been adopted in their final form. What is quite extraordinary is that some European Commissioners, first of all the First Vice-President of the Commission, the Dutch Socialist Frans Timmermans, seem to want to stand as judges of the Polish Constitutional Court since they issue opinions on the constitutionality of the bills debated by the Diet in Warsaw. It turns out that the Polish Constitution grants a large power to the parliament with regard to the organization of the judicial institution, which many foreign commentators seem to ignore, like Mr Timmermans, who, moreover, does not understand the Polish language and therefore necessarily has a superficial knowledge of the situation.

To block the adoption of these bills, the Liberal opposition has used all means this week: an unsuccessful attempt to physically block the work of the parliament as in December-January, a profusion of amendments (more than 1300 at the same time, rejected as a block by the PiS majority), calls on Brussels for an intervention… Thursday evening, after the adoption by the Diet of the bill on the Supreme Court, the Liberal opposition proclaimed the end of democracy , arguing that the independence of judges was now a fiction. An IBRiS poll carried out on 18-19 July for the newspaper Rzeczpospolita (favorable to the Liberal opposition) shows, however, that the cries of the liberals and the threats of Brussels do not convince a majority of Poles: the PiS is progressing by 3 points to 37%, Donald Tusk’s PO decreased by 2 points to 21% and Nowoczesna, the other liberal party, rose by 2 points to 9%.

Translated from French by the Visegrád Post.