Solidarity with Polish judges as draft bill threatens judicial independence

Article by Fair Trials

On Saturday 11 January, judges and lawyers from across Europe marched in silence through Warsaw to protest repressive restrictions aimed at Polish judges. The new draft law intends to fine or dismiss judges who question the government’s judicial reforms and infringe on judges’ freedoms of expression and association, leaving them vulnerable to political control.

The proposed bill is the latest chapter in the ruling party’s judicial overhaul that has gradually eroded the separation of powers. According to our JUSTICIA member the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, the new rules would “create mechanisms to interfere with the substance of judicial decisions, posing a systemic threat to the independence of Polish judges”.

Over the past five years, the right-wing governing majority has passed dozens of bills that have widened political influence over the judiciary system and undermined the right to a fair trial. In 2019, the JUSTICIA European Rights Network expressed its concerns regarding two amendments to the criminal code on excluding the possibility of early release and on the powers of public prosecutors to decide on pre-trial detention, which are part of a broader and worrying trend of reforms and which cannot be reconciled with the requirements of a right to a fair trial.

The latest developments in Poland will also likely have an impact on cross-border judicial cooperation. In 2018, the EU Court of Justice confirmed in the Celmer case that when it comes to European Arrest Warrants, the executing authority has a duty to determine whether a requested person can receive a fair trial in Poland by questioning the independence of the Polish judiciary. In a recent judgment, the EU court in Luxembourg has elaborated that this means that judges cannot take any instructions from any source and must be protected from any pressure that could impair their judgement.

Fair Trials expresses its solidarity with Polish criminal justice actors, along with thousands of demonstrators from across the country, who are speaking out against the government’s continued assault on judicial independence. We also urge the Polish government to amend the disciplinary procedures applicable to judges and to protect judges from undue influence from the government, since an independent judiciary is essential for the protection of human rights.