Poland has one month to comply with the European Commission’s request that the disciplinary chamber be separated from the parliament and from government. After this time, the Commission can ask for a fine against Poland.
Speaking to deputies via video link on Thursday, EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said, “ECJ rulings are legally binding and must be implemented by the Member State concerned.”
The Belgian official said the “legitimacy” of the Polish judiciary was being “seriously undermined and can no longer be guaranteed.”
The chamber was set up in 2017 by the Law and Justice (PiS) party to handle disciplinary cases against judges but opposition politicians and critics say this is an attempt by PiS to control Poland’s justice system.
The ECJ ruling is the latest development in a long-running dispute between Poland and the EU over PiS’s radical judicial reforms. PiS is the governing party in Poland and controls its parliament.
“The time for a decision is now approaching. I will not hesitate to ask the Commission to take appropriate measures” Didier Reynders, EU Justice Commissioner
Reynders was addressing a meeting of parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee on the situation of the rule of law in Poland.
He told MEPs, “I have to underline that this ECJ ruling is binding so it needs to be implemented.”
He said the Commission had carried out a “careful analysis” of the situation in Poland and this was “about to be concluded.”
“The time for a decision is now approaching. I will not hesitate to ask the Commission to take appropriate measures. It is necessary to say why, more than ever at a time of crisis, we are experiencing how important the rule of law is.”
“If the rule of law is damaged or harmed it will be more difficult for citizens to emerge from the crisis. To deal with this challenge we need a functioning and independent judiciary including independent and quality judges.”
“The ECJ ruling is binding on all Member States and must be respected,” he added.
Further concern was voiced by Adam Bodnar, the Polish commissioner for human rights, who told the committee there were “links” between the Coronavirus health crisis and judicial independence in Poland.
“Due to the use of emergency measures due to the crisis, there will be a need for an independent judiciary to verify all decisions by the Polish authorities. This is important to stress.”
“But, despite all the pressure being applied by the EU, the Polish judiciary is still under threat, not just judges but due to deteriorating standards. This not just a threat to Poland but also to the whole of the EU.”
Spanish Socialist deputy Juan Fernando López Aguilar, rapporteur on a report on the rule of law in Poland, voiced concern about the impact on human rights.
“Despite all the pressure being applied by the EU, the Polish judiciary is still under threat, not just judges but due to deteriorating standards. This not just a threat to Poland but also to the whole of the EU” Adam Bodnar, Polish commissioner for human rights
He told the meeting there had been “heavy politicalisation” of the judicial system which amounted to “political creep on the judiciary.”
“This is seen in all courts, from the highest to lowest.”
He also condemned moves by the government in Poland to “discipline judges who speak out against the reforms.”
But Marcin Warchol, the Secretary of the State in the Polish Ministry of Justice, strongly denied any breach of democracy by the various judicial reforms, telling the committee, “There can be no doubt of the need for these reforms.”
He said Polish opinion polls showed there was a “lack of trust and confidence in the courts” and also about “corruption scandals and lengthy court proceedings” in the country.
“All previous attempts at reform failed and reforms we have brought in are only procedural. I accept they have not brought all the desirable results but they are going in a good direction.”
He said the government had “improved the budget for the judiciary, including judges’ salaries.”