Brussels steps up legal action against Poland over disciplinary body

The European Commission has launched the second stage of an infringement procedure against Poland over a new legal body set up to discipline judges that Brussels claims breaks EU law.

The Commission (EC) announced its decision on Wednesday, nine months after first launching the procedure over the Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Chamber.

"The Commission considers that Poland violates EU law by allowing the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court – the independence and impartiality of which is not guaranteed – to take decisions, which have a direct impact on judges and the way in which they exercise their function,” the EC said in a statement.

"The mere prospect for judges of having to face proceedings before a body whose independence is not guaranteed creates a ‘chilling effect' for judges and can affect their own independence."

Poland now has a month to respond to the EC's move.

If Poland's response is not satisfactory, the Commission may bring the case before the Court of Justice of the European Union. The court previously ruled that the Disciplinary Chamber could not conduct proceedings against judges.

The EC’s new move against Poland is the latest twist in a story that started in April last year, when the Commission initiated the infringement procedure.

Last month it sent an “additional letter of formal notice to Poland, adding a new grievance to the infringement procedure”.

"Poland's reply to the additional letter of formal notice does not address the Commission's concerns,” said the statement. “For this reason, today the Commission has decided to advance with the next step in the infringement procedure by sending an additional reasoned opinion to Poland."

The chamber was set up to deal with judges who behave unethically or break the law, and those who question the legitimacy of the government-reformed judicial self-governance body, the KRS (National Council of the Judiciary).

But critics say the law may be used to discipline judges who oppose the ruling party's reforms.

The proceedings could well increase tensions between Poland and the EU. Brussels has frequently clashed with Poland’s socially conservative government over its controversial overhaul of the Polish judicial system.