Poland’s constitutional tribunal has ruled that the European Court of Human Rights cannot question the status of its judges, which opens a new front in the fight for a refurbishment of the country’s judiciary.
The verdict, in response to a case brought by Poland’s hawkish justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro, comes amid a protracted struggle between Warsaw and Brussels over a series of changes what critics say fundamentally undermines Poland’s independence of the judiciary.
The European Commission has challenged several aspects of Warsaw’s reforms at the EU’s Supreme Court, the European Court of Justice, which has ruled that some of the changes – such as a new disciplinary regime for judges – are illegal.
However, aspects of the overhaul were also addressed by the European Court of Human Rights – an institution distinguished from the EU, which ruled in May that a Polish business was denied its right to a fair trial because a constitutional tribunal judge was illegally appointed.
In its ruling Wednesday, widely seen as a response to that case, Poland’s constitutional tribunal ruled that part of Article 6.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for the right to a fair trial by an independent court, guarantee, can not be. applied to the Polish Constitutional Tribunal, or used to give the EHRM the right to adjudicate the legality of the appointment of judges to the Polish Constitutional Court.
Jakub Jaraczewski, a legal expert at Democracy Reporting International, said the ruling was significant because it “escalated” Poland’s rule of law stand-off beyond its conflict with the EU to other international institutions, such as the ECHR.
“The European Court of Human Rights has issued a number of rulings on Poland, and now we have the Polish response. “This is an attempt to eliminate the EHRM by providing the government with legal coverage to ignore its judgment,” he said.
“This ruling takes this crisis further as a conflict between Warsaw and Brussels over how the EU should be set up. It is now clear that this is about the Polish government that has damaged the rule of law in Poland and several international institutions. . . try to do something about it. ”
Sebastian Kaleta, Poland’s Deputy Minister of Justice, welcomed the decision of the Constitutional Tribunal. “The latest attempt at external and illegal interference in Poland’s legal system has been thwarted by the constitutional tribunal,” he wrote on Twitter.
The battle between Poland and the EU over Warsaw’s judicial changes has intensified since the Conservative Nationalist Law and Justice Party launched a series of reforms that it says are necessary to improve the functioning of the judiciary.
The dispute culminated last month when the constitutional tribunal, sterilized by the government in 2016 in a series of maneuvers that the tribunal itself considered unconstitutional, ruled that key parts of EU law were incompatible with the Polish constitution, which raised questions about Poland’s long-term future in the bloc.
The stand-off delayed Brussels’ approval of Poland’s Covid-19 economic recovery package, actually freezes € 36 billion in funding, and has given rise to calls for a new conditionality mechanism to be used to withhold further EU funds from Warsaw.
Last week, the commission written to Poland asks for information on how it will protect EU funds in light of its judicial changes. Warsaw has two months to respond.