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Poland to dissolve judges’ Disciplinary Chamber to meet EU demands

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WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland will do away with a disciplinary system for judges which the EU’s top court has ruled violates EU law, the head of the ruling PiS party said, in a bid to diffuse a row that could result in financial penalties against the country.

Poland faces an Aug. 16 deadline set by the European Commission to disband the Disciplinary Chamber, which the EU says is being used to pressure judges or to exert political control over judicial decisions, and undercuts the bloc’s laws.

“We will dissolve the Disciplinary Chamber as it currently operates and in this way the subject of the dispute will disappear,” Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) and a deputy prime minister, said in an interview published on Saturday with state-run news agency PAP.

Under PiS Poland has clashed with the EU on a number of fronts, such as media independence and the rights of migrants, women and gays.

Some legal experts say the dissolution of the Disciplinary Chamber would be a cosmetic change which would not be enough to satisfy the EU’s top court.

“The mere dissolution of the Disciplinary Chamber doesn’t solve the problem of past, unlawful decisions and sanctions adopted by this body,” said Laurent Pech, professor of European law at Middlesex University, London.

“If they want to comply with EU law, it is quite simple. They have to undo everything they have done for the past five years, there is no other way,” Pech added, referring to a series of measures such as reforms to the Constitutional Tribunal, which will rule on whether the Polish constitution takes precedence over EU treaties this month.

UNCOMPROMISING STANCE

While the Tribunal is nominally independent, most of its judges have been nominated by PiS, some to replace candidates picked by the opposition but whose appointment was refused by President Andrzej Duda, a party ally.

The PiS-led ruling coalition is split over whether to stand firm over its legal reforms or compromise to avoid risking financial sanctions.

Members of junior coalition partner United Poland, led by Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, architect of the reforms, have taken an uncompromising stance.

Asked in an interview published on Friday whether United Poland would remain in the coalition if Poland accepts the EU top court’s ruling, Ziobro said there were “limits to compromise”. 

Kaczynski said reform of the judiciary, including a proposal to change the Disciplinary Chamber, had already been planned, but rejected the ruling by the EU’s top court.

“I do not recognise these kinds of rulings as they clearly go beyond the Treaties and extend the jurisdiction of the EU courts,” Kaczynski said, adding the government would put forward its first proposals for reforming the Chamber in September.

PiS spokespeople did not immediately respond to questions about details of the planned reforms.

The head of Poland’s Supreme Court on Thursday partially froze the Disciplinary Chamber, saying no new cases would go to it until legislative changes are introduced or until the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issues a final verdict on the matter. 

Reporting by Alicja Ptak Editing by Alan Charlish and David Holmes

Reuters