"We are appalled. We have no doubt that the real objective of this process is to silence a most competent critic of legislative proposals and governmental practices in Poland", says Executive Director Jostein Hole Kobbeltvedt.
This morning Thursday 15 April 2021, the “Constitutional Tribunal” of Poland decided that the law stating that the incumbent Ombudsman will hold the position after their term has expired until a successor is appointed by the Sejm (lower house) and the Senate (upper house) in Parliament, is unconstitutional.
The decision will take force no later three months from now. This means that Rafto Laureate 2018 Adam Bodnar, widely admired and honored for his brave and diligent work for the common rights of all Polish citizens, will be forced out of the office by 15 July even if there is no successor.
The case was initiated by members of parliament belonging to the “Law and Justice” party PiS. The bench of the “Constitutional Tribunal” was manned by judges appointed in 2016 by PiS, in violation of Polish law. Applying the standards set by the European Court of Justice, this tribunal is not a court of law. The hearing preceding the decision was conducted in a manner described by observing legal professionals as reminiscent of a Soviet era “show trial”.
"The lifeguard must stay on duty"
The practice now declared unconstitutional is common in governmental offices across Europe entrusted to carry out a function which needs to be secured continuously. The Ombudsman’s office has been occupied on overtime before, and the practice is recognized as necessary and legitimate for other offices in Poland, such as the head of the central bank. As Bodnar himself declared at the hearing: “Even if his shift has ended, the lifeguard stays on duty until the replacement has arrived”.
The objective is to silence a critic
Although the decision was expected, the Rafto Foundation is appalled by this move by the PiS government, as are scores of observers around Europe. This decision places the Senate, which is held by the opposition, in the position of either having to accept a candidate it deems unfit, or to deprive the Office of the Ombudsman of leadership.
"We have no doubt that the real objective of this process is to silence a most competent critic of legislative proposals and governmental practices in Poland. European institutions and governments cannot tolerate this entrenchment of a lawless authoritarian regime in a member state of the European Union any longer", says Rafto Foundation Executive Director Jostein Hole Kobbeltvedt.