Penalties for apostasy: what threatens Poland judicial reform

On the morning of Monday, July 24, the President of Poland Andrzej Duda announced that he will veto two of the three draft laws on the reform of the judicial system of the country. “I regret that I, as the President of the Republic was not consulted about this initiative before it reached Parliament. Neither I nor other stakeholders did not have time to discuss them”, — explained the President’s decision to return bills to the lower house.

According to The Guardian, this is the first time when Duda blocks the initiative of the ruling conservative party “law and justice”, which member he was and which was nominated for the election in 2015. Three bills modifying the formation of the Supreme court, the National judicial Council (NAC) and the General court — the first two the President promised to veto.

The most controversial was the draft law on the Supreme court. On Thursday, after a stormy debate, it was adopted by the Sejm (the lower chamber), and in the night of Saturday, July 22, and the Senate. This led to mass protests across the country — the largest since the coming to power of the “Law and justice” two years ago.

Judgment day

Adopted by the Senate amendment requires the dismissal of all the judges of the Supreme court of Poland on the day following the entry into force of the law. Some judges can stay in office, but only by decision of the Minister of justice with the authority to make exceptions to the rule. The Minister will also be able to initiate the resignation and to appoint Supreme court judges. The process of resignation will be launched upon decision of the Parliament.

On July 15th, the Senate made two new amendments to the law on the National judicial Council (NCC) and the law on Common courts. The first concerns the functioning of NSS, a constitutional body to safeguard the independence of courts and judges in Poland. The reform abolishes some functions of NSS, and greatly expanding the powers of the Minister of justice. The amendment deprives the NSS functions for the nomination of new judges for the approval of the President of Poland, as it was until now. In accordance with the new legislation the Minister of justice will directly impact issues associated with the service increase of judges.

The amendment also requires a change in the order of formation of NSS. A crucial role will play the lower house of Parliament, the deputies will be able to appoint the 15 members of the NCC of the common 25, which is contrary to the Polish Constitution, according to which the Sejm may appoint up to six members of the NSS. The remaining ten seats in the NAC is the Minister of justice, the first President of the Supreme court, the President of the Supreme administrative court, a judge appointed by the President of Poland, four judges appointed from among the members of the lower house of Parliament, and two from among the senators, Amnesty International indicates. Under current law, the 15 members of the NAC were elected judges of the bench of the Supreme court, Common courts, administrative and military courts.

The second amendment concerns the work of Common courts: appointment of presidents and Vice-presidents of the courts is transferred to the Minister of justice who, while working as attorney General, will be able to participate directly in judicial proceedings. This is the only of the three bills, which the President Duda expressed any intention to block. Moreover, he did not even mention it in his speech on 24 July.

For the “independent courts” and “democracy”

In fact, all three bills put the judicial system in direct dependence on the Cabinet of Ministers. Thursday, July 20, in the evening, after the Sejm adopted the draft law, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Warsaw, opposing the “anti-constitutional reform.” According to police, was attended by about 14 thousand participants, at the same time, city officials counted about 50 thousand protesters. According to Bloomberg, the only major Polish cities, made more than 100 thousand dissenters. The crowd in front of the Presidential Palace in addition to ordinary citizens was opposition lawmakers, and celebrities, writes The Washington Post. The protesters held candles, sang the national anthem, waving national flags and EU flags and chanted: “an Independent judiciary!” and “Democracy!”. They also carried placards, one of the inscriptions read: “Overthrow the dictatorship”, says TASS.

In support of the bill was made by the Prime Minister of Poland Beata Szydlo. On national television she said that judicial reform is designed to solve the inefficiency of the legal system. According to her, changes are needed not only to increase accountability of the courts, but to ensure that “public institutions serve all poles, not just the elites.” She also said that the government will not respond to pressure “Polish and foreign representatives of the interests of elites”, referring, most likely, the warnings of the European Union about possible imposition of sanctions, said ABC News.

The leader of the ruling party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a lawyer by training, insists that the justice system in the country needs radical change, because, in his words, it “still works on the line of the Communist era”. Critics of the bill recognize that the judicial system needs reform, but proposed by the Parliament changes, in their opinion, going in the wrong direction, writes The Washington Post.

With the exception of the intelligentsia, the majority of poles agree that the current court system is ineffective, and support the reform of the government, emphasizes the lead researcher of the IMEMO ran, Executive Director of the Foundation for prospective studies and initiatives Irina Kobrinskaya. “The ruling party does what is needed and what is supported by society,” she explained to RBC.

On the other hand, published on Saturday, the Millward Brown survey showed that over a month the popularity of the party “law and justice” has fallen from 36% to 32%. It remains the largest political force in the country. Before that, on Friday, was made public a survey of the TV channel TVN24, which implies that 55% of poles wanted President Duda (nominated by “Law and equity”) put a veto on all three amendments.

Lawmakers from opposition parties and former Minister of justice Boris Box believe that the bill makes judges dependent on government and deprives citizens of the right to independent courts. He also condemned the rate at which a bill has been passed without proper consultation with the public.

“We believe that Poland is slowly but systematically turns into a correctional facility,” — said in the debate in the upper house of Parliament on Friday, the Senator, a veteran and activist of the anticommunist movement Yang Rulewski, dressed in prison uniform.

Judges also do not agree with the initiative of the ruling party: statements by the President of the Supreme court Małgorzata Gersdorf, on average, the court requires seven months for a decision on the case, that is, in her words, “a good result, even by European standards,” given that the court deals with the most complex and intricate issues, said Gersdorf.

Political analyst Ivan Preobrazhensky, the expert in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, emphasizes that speech, the President explained the blocking of the documents of legal errors, not protect judicial independence. “It’s not the President’s refusal to sign the amendments, just the pressure of society and of the European Commission was very powerful. Duda is a tool in the hands of Kaczynski, so that amendments can take individually, in a more relaxed atmosphere as it was last fall with the law banning abortions,” said RBC Transfiguration.

Against European values

Immediately after the vote in the Sejm on Thursday, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk, the former Prime Minister of Poland, called the changes in the judicial system “backward”. Tusk appealed to the President Andrzej Duda with a request for a meeting to find ways out of a situation which, according to him, is contrary to the EU values and destroys the international image of Poland. “Bringing the judges under the control of the ruling party in the manner proposed by the party “law and justice” destroys the already tainted public opinion about the Polish democracy,” he said. However, the Polish President from a meeting with Tusk refused, stated his spokesman Krzysztof Mersky.

On 19 July the first Vice-President of the Commission Frans Timmermans said that in the case of adoption of law about judicial reform in Poland will be initiated judicial proceedings in the EU court, whose decision can be sanctioned. Such judicial amendment, how do you plan to enter the Polish legislators, according to Timmermans, allow the Polish government to “fully” control the judicial system.

In addition, Timmermans has threatened the authorities of Poland to the seventh article of the EC Treaty, according to which EU members can “establish the existence of a clear threat of a serious breach” of the values of the Union, and then Poland may be denied the right to vote in the EU Council. In response, the Deputy foreign Minister of Poland Konrad Szymanski stated that if the Commission would deprive Poland of the right to vote, Warsaw will be able to go to court. He stressed that judicial reform is not a threat to the independence of judges.

“The Polish foreign Ministry called the criticism of the European Commission to address reform of the judicial system, which intend to carry out in the country “groundless and unreasonable” and “immature”, — stated in the message. According to the publication, according to the foreign Ministry, the foreign forces trying to influence the internal Affairs of the country. It is noted that Warsaw in the implementation of the reform “sought to follow European standards.”

Now in a similar situation is the government of Hungary. In may the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning “human rights violations” in the country — is the tightening of the rules for the admission of refugees, restrictions on the work of NGOs and foreign institutions. The resolution calls on the Commission to investigate these violations and punish Budapest including deprivation of the right to vote in the EU Council.

Sunday, July 23, the Minister of justice of Germany Heiko Maas said in an interview with Bild that Germany will fully support the possible EU sanctions against its own member, Poland. “The EU cannot idly stand by and watch, when the independence of the judiciary in Poland is in danger. Democracy and the rule of law is the basis of the EU,” the Minister added.

The United States also expressed its concern about the continuing attempts by the Polish government to change the legislative activity in the country, reports Bloomberg. By words a press-the Secretary of the U.S. Department of state Heather Nauert, Washington continues to negotiate with Warsaw at the highest level. She also noted that the proposed reform appears to be the United States “to limit judicial system and potentially weaken the rule of law.”

According to Kobrin, the government “is far from accepted democratic norms,” but the situation in Poland lasts from the moment of coming to power of the “Law and justice” in 2015. According to the expert, thanks to Brexit, the EU itself is now in a vulnerable position and threats trying to adjust the course Polish authorities. But some decisive steps in relation to Warsaw, according to Kobrin, Brussels will not go.