An organization representing Europe’s judiciaries has moved to suspend the Polish Council for the Judiciary (KRS) on the basis it lacks independence from the executive in Warsaw.
The board of the European Network of Councils of the Judiciary (ENCJ) put forward the proposal to suspend its Polish member, to be voted on at a meeting September 17.
“The Board considers that the KRS is no longer the guardian of the independence of the judiciary in Poland,” the ENCJ wrote in a detailed opinion. “It seems instead to be an instrument of the executive.”
The ENCJ represents judiciaries from across the EU, and it acts as an advisory body to EU institutions. Its Polish member, the KRS, is the body responsible for selecting Poland’s judges.
Chairman of the KRS Leszek Mazur told Polish news site Onet: “We consider these actions as unauthorized and unjust.” Stating that a decision to exclude Polish judges “would be extremely regrettable,” Mazur said, “Let us hope that we will be able to appeal against such a decision.”
In January, a new law came into effect in Poland under which judicial members of the KRS are no longer selected by their peers but rather by the parliament. KRS members originally vehemently opposed the new law, but following the change its chairman issued a letter to the ENCJ defending the shift in how it functions.
But the international body deemed the legal changes are problematic.
“The Board finds that the reasons provided for the Polish government’s judicial reforms are not convincing enough to justify them,” the ENCJ wrote. “The essence of these reforms entails a very considerable power shift from the judicial power to the executive. This shift infringes very seriously the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers.”
Mazur raised concerns about undue process in the decision-making process, and said: “Even if the Polish National Judiciary Council was excluded from the ENCJ, it would not have any impact on the possible recognition of judgments of Polish courts in Europe.”
Under the leadership of the conservative Law and Justice party, Poland has repeatedly clashed with the EU over changes to the judicial branch, with critics both at home and abroad charging the country’s judiciary is no longer independent.
Michał Broniatowski contributed reporting.