Poland’s Ruling Nationalist Party Steps Up Assault on Judiciary

Law and Justice pushes through more changes to the court system that give power to the government.

Prime Minister Beata Szydło of Poland listens to a reporter's question in Warsaw, June 28
Prime Minister Beata Szydło of Poland listens to a reporter’s question in Warsaw, June 28 (KPRM)

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party pushed through more changes to the court system on Wednesday:

  • One bill takes power to appoint members to the National Judicial Council, which is responsible for appointing lower-level judges, away from the judiciary itself and gives it to parliament, where Law and Justice has a majority.
  • The same law removes fifteen of the 25 judges currently serving on the National Judicial Council.
  • A second bill gives the justice minister the power to unilaterally replace court presidents.

Political control

The government argues the reforms will streamline the system. “The result will be that the courts work quickly and efficiently [with] verdicts that get Poles’ trust,” said Marcin Warchoł, the deputy justice minister.

But critics see “yet another step toward the ultimate political control over the justice system,” as the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights put it.

Rafał Trzaskowski, a liberal opposition lawmaker, said the reforms removed “any doubt, if there was any left, that Law and Justice wants to make the judicial system dependent on the government.”

Constitutional Tribunal

Law and Justice has also been at loggerheads with the Constitutional Tribunal in a legal kerfuffle the European Commission has described as a threat to the rule of law in Poland.

Soon after coming to power in 2015, the party removed justices appointed by the previous, liberal government. It introduced reforms that the tribunal’s president, Andrzej Rzepliński, said violated the high court’s independence. He threw out the changes, but Law and Justice refused to accept this judgement.

The government escalated the standoff by proposing to give itself the right to decide which of the tribunal’s rulings would be published and not — a blatant attempt to hide unfriendly verdicts.