PM says top court will check whether its lineup is constitutional

Rafał Guz/PAP

Mateusz Morawiecki, the Polish prime minister, has said that the government has decided to ask the Constitutional Tribunal to review whether a law requiring a full bench of 11 judges for hearing some cases is compatible with the constitution.

Morawiecki was referring to a law introduced in December 2015 by the Law and Justice (PiS) government which amended the Statute on the Constitutional Tribunal by requiring at least 11 judges to be present on the tribunal's panel, two more than the nine previously required.

At the time the move was seen, by its critics, as a way for PiS to gain influence over the tribunal because judges supportive of the government could be appointed to the larger tribunal.

But in recent months the tribunal has been gripped by what Morawiecki described as "deadlock".

The cause of the deadlock is a dispute within the tribunal over just when the term in office of its head, Julia Przylebska, ends.

In January, six judges called on her to resign, arguing that her term in office expired at the end of last year. But Przylebska, who has the backing of key figures in PiS, rejects this, claiming that she can remain in office till the end of 2024.

So far, Przylebska has rebuffed attempts to set wheels in motion for her replacement but with six judges refusing to recognise her legitimacy the court cannot get the required number of judges for a sitting.

This has meant that it has been unable to handle a law on judicial accountability, which was submitted to it by President Andrzej Duda. The law meets some of the milestones set by the European Commission which Poland has to meet to unlock billions of euros in post-pandemic recovery funding.

As long as the deadlock remains Poland receives no money.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Morawiecki said that the government would submit a special request to the Constitutional Tribunal to examine the constitutionality of the line-up number put in place by the 2015 legislation.

"After these several months of deadlock, which is caused by the obstruction of some judges in the Constitutional Tribunal, together with lawyers at the Prime Minister's Office, we came to the conclusion that it is worth submitting a motion to the Constitutional Tribunal as regards the act on the organisation of the work of the Constitutional Tribunal," he said.

Later in the day, government spokesman Piotr Mueller told PAP that the request had already been submitted to the Tribunal.

On Friday, in another bid to break the deadlock, a draft law on reducing the size of a full composition of the tribunal from 11 to nine judges had its second reading in the Sejm, the lower house of the parliament.

According to PiS, the bill, by reducing the number of judges required for a sitting, will make it easier to assemble the required quorum to hear a case.

But it could face difficulties getting the required support in parliament owing to opposition to it from Zbigniew Ziobro, the justice minister and the leader of Sovereign Poland, a junior member of the United Right governing coalition.

Without his party's support the bill could fail, thus jeopardising Poland's chances of getting access to the EU money.