The European Commission has begun infringement procedures over alleged breaches of the rule of law by Poland.
The Commission issued a Letter of Formal Notice to Poland yesterday, highlighting recent Polish judicial reforms which leave judges vulnerable to political interference. According to the EU’s regulations governing fundamental rights and the rule of law, citizens should be guaranteed “an effective remedy before an independent and impartial court”;
Under Polish law, court judges may be subjected to investigations and disciplinary procedures as a result of their judicial rulings; meanwhile, members of the Polish Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Chamber, which oversees judges’ discipline procedures, are appointed by Poland’s Parliament and are not held to any stringent standards of independence or neutrality. Judges subjected to disciplinary action are accorded minimal rights as defendants; and can no longer be guaranteed a reasonable timeframe in which their case can be heard, meaning disciplinary cases can be kept in a perpetually pending state.
European First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said: “It is important that we act now on this matter, for several reasons. First, of course because judicial independence and effective judicial protection are essential for the functioning of the Union and of any democratic system. Second, because we need to preserve the system of referrals for preliminary ruling as the backbone of the Union’s legal order. You need a uniform application of EU law across the European Union, and to ensure that you need unfettered access of national judges to the European Court of Justice. Third, because the position of individual judges is at risk, with their careers and means of living being endangered for the mere fact of trying to do their jobs independently. In view of the urgency of the situation, the Commission will send a letter of formal notice to the Polish authorities on the matter, and a reply should be given within two months.”