Venice Commission recommends scrapping Poland's new disciplinary bill

A delegation of the Venice Commission visited Poland last week at the invitation of Senate Speaker Tomasz Grodzki, who sought its opinion before a vote on the bill in the Polish upper house. Tomasz Gzell/PAP

The Venice Commission, an advisory body to the Council of Europe, issued an opinion on Thursday on Poland's draft disciplinary regime on judges, in which it recommended rejecting the contested bill and seeking other solutions.

A delegation of the Venice Commission visited Poland last week at the invitation of Senate Speaker Tomasz Grodzki, who sought its opinion before a vote on the bill in the Polish upper house.

The Commission acknowledged the existence of a "legal schism" following the introduction of judicial reforms by the ruling party, the conservative Law and Justice (PiS), and said the situation should be quickly resolved, "which will certainly require further legislative amendments."

"The amendments of December 2019, however, are not suitable to achieve this goal. They diminish judicial independence and put Polish judges into the impossible situation of having to face disciplinary proceedings for decisions required by the ECHR (European Court of Human Rights - PAP), the law of the European Union, and other international instruments. Thus, the Venice Commission recommends not to adopt those amendments," the advisory body wrote.

The new legislation "may be seen as further undermining the independence of the judiciary," the Commission said.

The Commission also recommended that Poland implement the advisory body's previous recommendations, issued in 2017.

The new Polish judicial legislation was approved by the Sejm (lower house) on December 20 and sent to the Senate, which has 30 days to process the bill.

The ruling party says the bill has been drafted to discipline judges who, according to legislators, obstruct the functioning of the judiciary, question judicial appointments and engage in political activity. Even if the bill is rejected by the Senate, the Sejm has the power to overturn the upper house's veto.