EU executive takes Poland to court over judges’ disciplinary regime



The European Commission referred Poland to the top EU court on Thursday, arguing that a new disciplinary regime for ordinary court judges fails to protect them from political control.

Brussels had  been at loggerheads with Warsaw for several years over judicial reforms introduced by Poland’s ruling national conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS).

The commission, the European Union’s executive  has referred several cases to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), while launching a separate disciplinary procedure that could theoretically see Warsaw stripped of its EU voting rights.

Thursday’s decision relates to laws that allow the decisions of ordinary court judges to be subject to probes and even sanctions.

The commission questions the independence of the Supreme Court’s new disciplinary chamber, whose members are selected by a judicial body appointed by parliament.

The chamber’s president, furthermore, can determine, which court should hear cases brought against judges.

The commission also noted that, under the new regime, there is no reasonable time frame for cases to be processed, allowing the justice minister to keep charges pending over ordinary court judges.

“In short, judges are not insulated from political control and thus judicial independence is violated,’’ the EU executive concludes.

It has asked the Luxembourg-based court to rule in an expedited procedure, given the potential impact of the issue on judicial independence.

The referral was criticised sharply by the country’s Justice Minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, who said it constituted an attempt to intervene in Poland’s election,” Ziobro said, according to the Polish press agency.

The head of Poland’s largest opposition party Civic Platform Grzegorz Schetyna, in turn, warned on Thursday against dramatic consequences that may arise from controversial reforms of the governing party.

Poland will hold its parliamentary election on Sunday, Oct. 13.

The commission has ratcheted up its efforts to uphold the rule of law in EU member states, viewing the matter as a fundamental pillar for the overall functioning of the bloc.

However, some countries argue that these are internal affairs only.

The ECJ has already ruled against Warsaw over provisions lowering the retirement age of Supreme Court judges.

It is also considering similar provisions for ordinary court judges.

Meanwhile, the commission also pressed ahead with measures against Hungary on Thursday after it withheld food for rejected asylum applicants in transit zones on the Serbian border.

Also giving Budapest one month to comply with EU rules or else face court action.

Compelling refugees to stay in the Hungarian transit zones amounts to de facto detention, the commission argued.

Adding that failure to provide food in these circumstances does not respect [EU] obligations.

The case was launched on July 26, when the commission sent Budapest a letter of formal notice.

The Hungarian government’s reply did not address the commission’s concerns, it said.

Should Hungary fail to comply with EU rules in the coming month, the commission may refer the case to the ECJ.(NAN)


Edited by Halima Sheji/Felix Ajide

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