April 9: The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has suspended the disciplinary chamber of Poland’s Supreme Court over questions about its independence.
The chamber was set up in 2017 by the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, to handle disciplinary cases against judges.
Opposition politicians and critics say this is an attempt by PiS to control Poland’s justice system.
Now, the ECJ has ruled that Poland must immediately suspend the chamber. It is the latest development in a long-running row between Poland and the EU over PiS’s radical judicial reforms, the BBC reported. PiS is the governing party in Poland and controls its parliament.
The European Commission asked the ECJ in January to consider the disciplinary chamber, arguing it was not up to EU standards of judicial independence.
Judges chosen by the National Council of the Judiciary sit on that disciplinary chamber. But the PiS changed the law so that the parliament – which it controls – picks the member of that judicial council.
This ECJ ruling states that the fact that judges could be subject to such discipline from the chamber “is likely to affect their own independence”. And while each country in the EU has the right to organise its own judicial system, this disciplinary system “is likely to cause serious and irreparable harm” to legal order in the EU.
Poland now has one month to comply with the European Commission’s request that the disciplinary chamber be separated from the parliament and from government, while the court makes its final ruling. After this time, the Commission can ask for a fine against Poland.
PiS has introduced rules which mean judges can be punished for “political activity”.
The nationalist party says the reforms are needed to tackle corruption.
But critics and opposition members say it is an attempt by the party to control Poland’s justice system. In December, Poland’s Supreme Court warned the country may have to leave the EU if the judicial reforms continue.
In recent days the party has also come under fire for changing the law so that May’s presidential election can go ahead – despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Opposition parties say this is to boost the hopes of incumbent President Andrzej Duda, who is backed by PiS. But PiS says it is to protect the democratic process.