Polish Senate head responds to EC's rule of law appeal

The Senate speaker said that the upper house's analysis "will include proper consultations with interested stakeholders, both Polish and international." Marcin Bielecki/PAP

Polish Senate Speaker Tomasz Grodzki in a response to European Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova's letter said that the Senate will scrutinise all bills that may jeopardise the rule of law, referring to a contested disciplinary bill passed on Friday.

The Polish Sejm (lower house) on Friday afternoon passed legislation introducing disciplinary measures against judges, following a stormy all-night debate in the house's Justice Committee.

Grodzki's letter came in response to Jourova's earlier appeal addressed to Poland's president, prime minister and the speakers of both houses of parliament to suspend work on the bill until further consultations, including with the Council of Europe's Venice Commission. The ruling party Law and Justice (PiS), which holds a majority in the lower house, pushed through the legislation nevertheless.

Sejm Speaker Elżbieta Witek said on Saturday that every EU member state deals with their internal issues domestically. "There is no conflict with the EU law here, and it's been said several times," Witek said, adding that it is Polish parliamentarians who decide what legislation will be in force in Poland.

Grodzki, who represents the main opposition party, the centrist Civic Platform (PO), took a different stance on the matter.

"On behalf of the Senate of the Republic of Poland, I would like to assure you that the Senate will duly consider any draft legislation that may endanger the rule of law in Poland and the Polish judiciary, taking note of the suggestions included in your letter," Grodzki wrote.

The Senate speaker said that the upper house's analysis "will include proper consultations with interested stakeholders, both Polish and international."

Also on Friday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern over the legislation, which according to the commissioner "risks further jeopardising the independence of the judiciary in Poland."

On Friday afternoon, on Twitter, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic appealed for the Polish Sejm to cease processing the legislation.

Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro defied all the appeals on Friday, when the bill was already passed, arguing that the legislation came in response to "an attempt to cause chaos, an attempt to plant explosives under the pillars of the Polish judicial system."

The dispute which led to the bill's passage was sparked off by Poland's Supreme Court's queries to the EU Court of Justice (CJEU) regarding the legality of judicial appointments by Poland's National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), which, as a result of earlier reforms of the justice system, is now appointed by the Sejm and not, as earlier, by judges.

In a recent ruling on the matter, the CJEU said the Supreme Court had to decide the matter itself, in effect of which the Polish court ruled that the KRS was not impartial and independent.

The Supreme Court's ruling triggered queries by a number of judges concerning the legality of judicial appointments by the reformed KRS. This caused outrage in PiS, which said judges could not question the status of their peers and had to be reined in to prevent chaos in the justice system.