Courts under siege in Poland

«Courts in member states must be protected against external interventions or pressure liable to impair the independent judgment of its members» - Court of Justice EU, 25 July 2018
Such protection is no longer guaranteed in Poland today.

Photo: ESI/Batory Foundation, with support by the #FreeCourt Initiative, the Rafto Foundation and Rafto Laureate 2018 Adam Bodnar, presented the report on the collapse of Poland's rule of law at the European Parliament in Brussels,on 20 March.

By Iver Ørstavik, Senior Advisor

No other European democracy has a system like the Polish one. Nowhere else is there such a concentration of powers in the hands of one man - the Minister of Justice who is also Prosecutor General. He is able to appoint most individuals involved in investigating, prosecuting and judging disciplinary charges against ordinary judges and can intervene in every case.

This state of affairs does not maintain the independence of the judiciary considered necessary to secure rule of law, and protect the rights of citizens, as defined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (Art. 47), in the European Convention on Human Rights (Art. 6), and in the ruling by the Court of Justice EU (C-216/18 § 63).

Without an independent judiciary, rule of law is lost. Without rule of law, the protection of the rights of citizens is lost. Without rule of law and protection of the rights of citizens, the mutual trust and respect for legal decisions made in countries across Europe unravels. Protecting the independence of the Polish judiciary is therefore critical for protecting citizen’s rights in relations crossing European borders.

Polish judges speaking out in defence of rule of law are already subject to intolerable formal and informal pressure to tow the line of government. We are approaching the point where tha damage done is irreversible. To avert this danger to the entire European system, the European Commission and the Court of Justice EU must heed the warnings voiced by the legal community and civil society in Poland, and act swiftly.

For in-depth analysis, read the European Stability Initiative /Batory Foundation report "Under Siege – Why Polish courts matter for Europe”, the legal opinion “The disciplinary system for judges in Poland – The case for infringement proceedings “ (22 March 2019), and “European tragedy – the collapse of Poland's Rule of law” (29 May 2018)

The authoring organizations presented the most recent report with the Polish Free Courts Initiative and the Rafto Foundation for Human Rights, comments provided by Rafto Human Rights Laureate 2018 and Polish Commissioner for Human Rights Adam Bodnar, on Wednesday March 20, at the European Parliament in Brussels.


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Iver Ørstavik

The Rafto Foundation, Senior Advisor
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Heads the partnership engagement with our most recent laureates
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