EU opens new infringement procedure against Poland over independence of judges

The European Commission opened a new infringement procedure against Poland on Wednesday, saying a new disciplinary regime the right-wing government in Warsaw has introduced for judges dealt a blow to judicial independence.

Poland’s ruling PiS party has pursued an overhaul of the judiciary since sweeping to power at the end of 2015. Under one of the changes judges could be subjected to a disciplinary investigation and ultimately sanctions if authorities deemed their rulings inappropriate.

“The new disciplinary regime undermines the judicial independence of Polish judges by not offering necessary guarantees to protect them from political control, as required by the Court of Justice of the European Union,” the Commission said in a statement announcing its infringement procedure.

The Polish disciplinary chamber is composed solely of judges selected by the National Council for the Judiciary whose members have been appointed by the ruling PiS majority in parliament.

The Commission also said the new disciplinary regime empowered the head of the disciplinary chamber to decide, on an ad-hoc basis and with an almost unfettered discretion, whether the disciplinary court of first instance heard a given case.

The Polish government has two months to reply to the Commission’s complaints.

Warsaw is already subject to an unprecedented EU rule-of-law procedure since end-2017 over its judiciary reforms. The process could result in Poland losing its EU voting rights, though in practice this is unlikely because all other 27 EU member states would have to agree.

The Commission, which is the EU executive arm and guardian of the bloc’s treaties, has already opened two infringement procedures against Poland, in mid-2017 and in mid-2018, over changes to retirement provisions for Polish ordinary and Supreme Court judges and their impact on their independence.

Source: News Agencies