Poland's top court puts back hearing on Supreme Court law

Poland's Constitutional Tribunal (TK) has postponed Wednesday's hearing on an amendment to a Supreme Court law, which is key to the EU unlocking post-pandemic recovery funds for Poland.

The law, which was referred to the tribunal by President Andrzej Duda and aims to meet one of the "milestones" set by the European Commission (EC) for Poland to get the money, has been stalled by a dispute within the tribunal over just when the term in office of its head, Julia Przylebska, ends.

The dispute has made it impossible for the court to convene in full.

On Wednesday, the TK wrote on its website that the hearing with a full bench on Duda's motion on amending the Supreme Court law, due to take place on May 31, has been rescheduled for June 27.

The postponement reflects the problems now gripping one of Poland's key legal bodies.

In January, six judges called on Przylebska 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 the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, 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 full sitting.

In an attempt to solve the problem, some Law and Justice MPs have tabled a bill that would reduce the number of judges required for a sitting from 11 to nine, making it easier to assemble the required quorum to hear a case.

Poland is due to receive EUR 23.9 billion in grants and EUR 11.5 billion in loans from the EU's post-pandemic Recovery and Resilience Facility.

But the EC froze Poland out of the pandemic-recovery funding on rule-of-law grounds, especially contesting a disciplinary body for judges installed in the Supreme Court. According to the EC, the disciplinary body could restrict the independence of judges.

In January, the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament, passed an amendment to the law on the Supreme Court. The amendment proposes that all disciplinary issues concerning judges be settled by the top administrative court instead of Supreme Court's Chamber of Professional Responsibility, a body created to replace a disciplinary chamber considered by the EC to be politicised.

But then Duda decided to ask the Constitutional Tribunal to assess the amendment's compliance with the constitution, which he described as a "preventative measure."