EU court says Poland's judicial disciplinary system against EU law

Poland's new disciplinary regime for judges is not compatible with EU law, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled on Thursday.

In its verdict, the European court upheld all the charges made by the European Commission (EC) and ruled that Poland had not met its obligations stemming from EU law.

"I cannot accept a situation in which Poland is being treated in a different and less favourable way in relation to similar legal situations and identical procedures, which are in force in Germany or Spain," Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said, referring to the CJEU verdict.

"Poland has based the reform of its justice system on similar solutions, or sometimes even the same ones, which are binding in other EU countries," Morawiecki stated and asked why some institutions, including the European Commission, had charged Poland with politicising the appointment of judges.

"So what about the German procedure, according to which judges are being appointed by politicians?" he asked and added that the Polish Judiciary Council is nearly identical with the Spanish one, which has been operating for years and is not a problem for anyone.

"And ours is a problem. I cannot accept such discrimination," he said.

Polish Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro, one of the main architects of the judiciary reforms, said the ruling was politically motivated.

"We are dealing with a political judgment that has been handed down at the behest of the European Commission and one that is based on the segregation of EU members into those which are better and worse... actually rooted in colonial thinking," Ziobro said.

He added that the Polish system for appointing judges is almost an exact copy of the one in Spain, but EU authorities had found no threat to the independence of the judiciary in the latter.

In October 2019, the European Commission decided to take Poland to the CJEU. The EC argued that the Disciplinary Chamber under the Polish Supreme Court, set up in 2017 by the ruling coalition to take disciplinary measures against judges, violated judicial independence in that it could have a "chilling effect" on judges, and thus ran against EU law.

The Luxembourg-based Court said the new disciplinary chamber "does not provide all the guarantees of impartiality and independence", and that, especially, it is not protected against direct or indirect influence of the Polish legislative and executive power.

The institution of the Disciplinary chamber was part of a broader overhaul of the Polish judicial system, large parts of which have been contested by the EU on the grounds that they made courts vulnerable to political pressure.

Poland's Constitutional Tribunal (TK) ruled on Wednesday that the EU Treaty provisions "to the extent that the CJEU imposes ultra vires obligations on the Republic of Poland as an EU member state by issuing interim measures relating to the system and jurisdiction of Polish courts and the mode of procedure before Polish courts is inconsistent" with the Polish constitution.

A legal query in the matter was addressed to the TK by the Disciplinary Chamber of Poland's Supreme Court. This occurred after a CJEU decision in April in which the EU court obliged Poland to suspend the application of laws relating to the Disciplinary Chamber in the disciplinary matters of judges.