Poland: end unjustified disciplinary proceedings against judges
The ICJ calls on the Polish authorities to put an immediate end to unjustified disciplinary proceedings initiated against judges, including Krystian Markiewicz, Chairperson of the Polish Judges’ Association “Iustitia”.
The ICJ considers that the disciplinary action against Judge Markiewicz’ was initiated because of his questioning of the Polish government’s “reforms” that have severely eroded the independence of the judiciary in Poland.
“The disciplinary action taken against Judge Markiewicz for his criticism of the government’s attack on judicial independence violates international standards on the independence of the judiciary and should be ended immediately”, said Róisín Pillay, Director of the ICJ Europe and Central Asia Programme.
“Judges have a right to freedom of expression and to form and take part in associations of judges. They have a particularly important role in speaking up to defend the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, which is undermined by arbitrary disciplinary proceedings such as those against Judge Markiewicz”, she added.
By order of the Deputy Disciplinary Commissioner of the ordinary court judges, on 4 December, disciplinary proceedings alleging 55 instances of misconduct were initiated against Judge Krystian Markiewicz. These include: inciting disrespect for Poland’s legal order by questioning the independence and legality of the National Council of the Judiciary (NCJ), and the constitutionality of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court; and calling for appeals to the Disciplinary Chamber to be suspended.
The disciplinary action against Judge Markiewicz comes within a week of the decision to suspend with immediate effect district Judge Paweł Juszczyszyn, who, in presiding over an appeal, questioned the impartiality of the judge who had delivered the original verdict as a result of being elected by the National Council for the Judiciary. On 1 December 2019, the Polish Judges’ Association Iustitia organized rallies in support of Judge Juszczyszyn.
The ICJ stresses that such actions taken against judges are inconsistent with the duties of all branches of the State to respect and protect the independence of the judiciary. The ICJ calls for Judge Juszczyszyn to be immediately re-instated in his post.
On 4 December 2019, the labour law chamber of the Supreme Court, in implementation of a recent ruling of the Court of Justice of the UE, held that the NCJ is not an impartial and independent body, and that the disciplinary chamber of the Supreme Court is not a “court” under EU or Polish law, thereby confirming the concerns raised by both Judge Juszczyszyn and Judge Markiewicz.
The UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary clarify that all governmental and other institutions must respect and observe the independence of the judiciary (Principle 1), and that judges must decide all matters before them impartially, on the basis of facts and in accordance with the law, without any restrictions, improper influences, inducements, pressures, threats or interferences, direct or indirect (Principle 2). Judges can be subject to suspension or removal only following fair procedures (Principle 17) and only for reasons of incapacity or behaviour that renders them unfit to discharge their duties (Principle 18).
In recent years, the Polish executive and legislative authorities have systematically undermined the independence of the judiciary in the country, including through laws that have sought to force the dismissal of judges by lowering the mandatory retirement age. In addition, they have brought the appointment of judges under political control by re-structuring the National Council of the Judiciary (NCJ), with a majority of its members selected by the Polish Parliament. (see ICJ statement)
This move has also politicized the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, whose members are selected by the NCJ, and the disciplinary court of first instance. In October 2019, the European Commission referred Poland to the CJEU on the grounds that the new disciplinary regime for judges undermines their independence.
In June 2019, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) held that the Polish Law on the Supreme Court lowering the retirement age of judges of the Supreme Court and providing discretionary power to the President to allow a judge to remain in office following the mandatory retirement date was contrary to the principle of effective judicial protection and therefore in violation of EU law. In November 2019, the CJEU held that Poland violated the independence of the judiciary by lowering in 2017 the pension age of Polish judges and giving the power to maintain them in office to the Minister of Justice.NewsWeb stories