EU Commission sues Poland for undermining independence of judges

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The European Commission on Wednesday took the Polish government to the EU’s top court for undermining the independence of judges and preventing them from applying EU law in Poland and asked the EU court to order interim measures until it produces a ruling.

“Polish judges are also European judges; they apply EU law and contribute to the mutual trust on which Europe is built,” European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova said.

“National governments are free to reform the judiciary, but while doing so they have to respect the EU treaties. Let me stress – this is not an ideological issue,” she said.

The Commission said the Polish law, adopted in December 2019, was incompatible with the primacy of EU law and prevented Polish courts through disciplinary steps from directly applying EU law that protects judicial independence.

“In addition, the Commission considers that Poland violates EU law by allowing the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court – the independence of which is not guaranteed – to take decisions which have a direct impact on judges and the way they exercise their function,” it said.

These include the lifting of immunity of judges to start criminal proceedings against them or to detain them as well as the temporary suspension from office and the reduction of their salary, the Commission said.

The EU executive arm, which is in charge of upholding EU laws, said the mere prospect for judges of having to face a body whose independence is not guaranteed created a “chilling effect” for judges and could affect their independence.

“The Commission considers that this seriously undermines judicial independence and … effective legal protection, and thus the EU legal order as a whole,” it said.

To prevent irreparable harm to court independence and the EU legal order, the Commission asked the EU court to suspend until its ruling the Polish Disciplinary Chamber’s powers to lift judicial immunity or to decide on the employment, social security and retirement of Supreme Court judges.

The Commission also asked the court to suspend the effects of decisions already taken by the Disciplinary Chamber and suspend the Polish law that prevents judges from directly applying EU law and form putting questions to the ECJ.

Main Photo: EPA-EFE/Toms Kalnins

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