Poland: Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Chamber is not a lawful tribunal due to political interference, says European Court of Human Rights

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) welcomes today’s judgment of the European Court of Human Rights holding that the Polish Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Chamber is not a legitimate tribunal established by law due to impermissible political interference in the appointment of its judges by the Executive and Legislative powers.

The ICJ intervened as a third party in the case, Reczkowicz v. Poland, making the point that a court composed by judges appointed by a non-independent body or via a non-independent procedure (as is the case in Poland’s Supreme Court Disciplinary Chamber) cannot constitute an independent and impartial tribunal, as required by Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

“This judgment highlights the crisis in the Polish judicial system, which has come to the extraordinary point where a chamber of the Supreme Court cannot be considered to be a legitimate court”, said Róisín Pillay, Europe and Central Asia Director at the ICJ. “The Polish authorities must immediately repeal the measures that have so degraded the rule of law, and must end their political interference with the judiciary.”

The case arose when Joanna Reczkowicz, a Polish lawyer, brought a complaint before the European Court of Human Rights arguing that Poland had violated her right to an independent and impartial tribunal established by law when the Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Chamber had heard her appeal against certain disciplinary penalties.

In today’s judgment, the European Court of Human Rights found that the procedure for appointing judges to the Disciplinary Chamber on the recommendation of the National Council for the Judiciary (NCJ) is contrary to national law. It also found that the legislative and executive powers had exercised such control over this appointment procedure as to impair the very essence of the right to a lawful tribunal under Article 6.

The Court’s findings also reflect the position under EU law. On 15 July, a decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) found the Polish judicial disciplinary regime incompatible with EU law, and on 14 July, a CJEU decision in a separate case required Poland to suspend application of the legal provisions on the Disciplinary Chamber pending a final decision in the case. On 20 July, the European Commission stated that it had initiated a process that may lead to Poland facing significant fines if it does not comply with the decision.

“It is crucial that prompt measures be taken to supervise and ensure implementation of the decisions of the ECHR and the CJEU, which are legally binding on Poland”, said Róisín Pillay. “In addition, the decisions show, once again, that there is a need for concerted political efforts at European level to address the rule of law crisis in Poland, including by urgently progressing the proceedings under Article 7 of the Treaty of European Union in the Council of the EU”.


In Poland, in recent years, the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary and the capacity of Polish judges to uphold the rule of law have been severely compromised. Among other measures, legislation that came into force in January 2018 politicized the National Council of the Judiciary (NCJ) and imposed executive control of the appointment process for judges of the Supreme Court, court presidents and other judges.  A powerful new “Extraordinary Chamber”, as well as a Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, appointed under this new system, further entrenched political control of the judiciary.

In addition to infringement proceedings before the CJEU, the European Commission has invoked Article 7 of the Treaty of the EU, the mechanism provided for in the EU treaty to hold accountable governments whose actions threaten the bloc’s rule of law, human rights, and democratic principles, in December 2017, but the process has progressed slowly in the EU Council.

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