The Polish Supreme Court has said that a draft law that would prevent judges from questioning the government’s judicial reforms could lead to Poland having to leave the EU.
The Supreme Court published a 40-page commentary on the draft law tabled last Thursday by the government, calling it “attempt to force the judges (…) to apply all the regulations voted by the majority in power,” even if a court finds them “incompatible with higher legal standards.” The text of law provides for sanctions, up to and including exclusion, for judges who question the legality of the appointment of another judge.
Judges could also be punished for engaging in “activities of a political nature” under the new proposals, put forward by the nationalist conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party government, Reuters reported.
The draft law explicitly forbids judges’ self-governing bodies from taking up positions on political matters and issuing resolutions “expressing hostility towards other authorities of the Republic of Poland and its constitutional bodies as well as criticising the fundamental principles of the political system of the Republic of Poland.”
The country’s Supreme Court said: “Contradictions between Polish law and EU law… will in all likelihood lead to an intervention by the EU institutions regarding an infringement of the EU treaties, and in the longer perspective [will lead to] the need to leave the European Union.”
The Supreme Court statement also said the proposed bill was “evidently” designed to allow President Andrzej Duda, an ally of PiS, to pick a new head of the court before a presidential election expected in May.
The EU had said on Monday it would investigate whether the draft law undermines judicial independence.
The European Commission has already launched rule-of-law investigations against Poland and Hungary over their attempts to bring courts and media under tighter state control.
In November the European Court of Justice ruled that the Polish government violated EU law when it reduced the retirement age for judges to 60 years for women and 65 years for men, from 67 years for both male and female judges.
The Court said that Poland “failed to fulfil its obligations under EU law, first, by establishing a different retirement age for men and women who were judges or public prosecutors in Poland and, second, by lowering the retirement age of judges of the ordinary courts while conferring on the Minister for Justice the power to extend the period of active service of those judges.”
Several magistrates’ organisations, as well as the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights among others have called for demonstrations against the bill on Wednesday evening, in front of the parliament in Warsaw and in front of the courts in a hundred other Polish cities.
According to Danuta Przywara, president of the Helsinki Foundation in Poland, the entry into force of the law would mark “the end of the separation of powers and the return to the unique power that we experienced in the days of communist Poland.”
The bill will be discussed this week in the PiS-dominate lower house of parliament.