Prolongation of Poland's ombudsman's term ruled unconstitutional

A law stating that the outgoing human rights commissioner may perform his duties until a replacement is chosen is inconsistent with the Constitution, Poland's top court ruled on Thursday.

The law ceases to be in force three months after the ruling is published in the Journal of Laws, the Constitutional Tribunal said.

The term of the most recent ombudsman, Adam Bodnar, ended in September 2020, but parliament has not chosen his successor. The Senate, where opposition parties have a slight majority, has a key role in nominating a new ombudsman and opposes candidates proposed by the ruling party Law and Justice (PiS).

In mid-September, lawmakers from PiS asked the constitutional court to strike down the law allowing Bodnar to remain in his position until a new commissioner is chosen. The motion was supported by the Sejm, lower house of Poland's Parliament and the Prosecutor General.

Bodnar questioned the move at the time saying "one may wonder whether it is about the institution of the Human Rights Commissioner or the person in this position."

Commenting on the Thursday ruling, PiS MP Andrzej Mularczyk, who represented the Sejm during the proceedings, said that it "implements the principle of the control of the law by the Constitutional Tribunal... is consistent with our motion and we believe that it is appropriate."

Another PiS MP, Marek Ast, representing lawmakers who motioned for the top court's ruling, said that the Constitutional Tribunal "against the fears of Prof. Bodnar" left the legislators three months to regulate 'this unconstructive state of affairs.'"

"So the ombudsman will be able to perform his duties for at least three more months and during this time the Sejm, I hope, will amend the unconstitutional act," he added.

After the ruling was announced, Bodnar appealed to all lawmakers to choose his successor "who will continue the good mission of his predecessors and who will be elected by the Sejm with the consent of the Senate," he said.