Judicial overhaul in Poland : what can we expect ?
The end of independent judiciary in Poland
"The courts and tribunals shall constitute a separate power and shall be independent of other branches of power” – the statement seems undisputed for every grown-up democracy, but not for Polish government! They are however legally bound by this rule as it originates from the Polish Constitution (art. 173). This year three bills regarding the judicial system were submitted by the representatives of the governing party. The first of them concerned the National Council of the Judiciary (Krajowa Rada Sądownictwa, KRS) which is responsible for nominating judges and it safeguards the independence of courts and judges. The new regulations would curtail the tenure of current members, who would be replaced by people favorable to the government. The second bill, which has already been enacted, changes the law on the system of common courts by giving the Minister of Justice a free rein to appoint and recall the Presidents and the Vice-presidents of the Court, even against the will of the National Council of the Judiciary. The last legal act relates to the Supreme Court and it would cause the replacement of all Supreme Court judges except those chosen by the Justice minister.
A social outburst of discontent
The bill about the Supreme Court was the final straw. Tens of thousands of Poles took to the streets in protest against the proposed reforms. People have gathered in the front of the courts in over 220 Polish cities every day at 9 p.m. for 2 weeks. Law and Justice counted on rapid reforms before the holidays (the bill was passed 9 days after its draft was proposed by the MPs) so in September they could continue with the reorganisation of other institutions, like the National Election Commission, which supervises the organization of elections. Furthermore, they did not expect such a mobilisation of society, because matters of the judiciary seemed to be too complicated and too distant from the everyday problems of an average person. Nevertheless, the civil society has risen and the massive protests resulted in two presidential vetoes. However, the law on the organisation of common law courts has already been signed and promulgated.
The illusion of acting in the interest of the people
Despite mass demonstrations, the government has never enjoyed such support – up to 40% of electorate would vote for Law and Justice. PiS had won the elections in 2015 because their postulates were the answer to many struggles of everyday life. The problems of the masses have been finally noticed by a political group, which has given them a hand. In return, Law and Justice received trust and obedience from their electorate. Kaczyński seized the opportunity and diffused the necessity to destroy the democratic system in Poland, which he describes as “post-communist”. Some of his supporters have not shared his opinion yet (it is a matter of time, because the public media spreads the propaganda), but they appreciate how much the government did for them, so they will not protest. The majority of the Law and Justice electorate do not understand the institutions of the democratic system and therefore are ready to give up independent courts if they were offered enough gratification.
The topic of the reform of judiciary will reappear after the holidays. Meanwhile the European Commission considers triggering the procedure of suspension of Poland’s voting rights in the Council of the European Union. But the Polish government has already spread the opinion among its supporters that the EU wants to deprive Poland from her sovereignty and the Polish government will not accept the dictates of Brussels.
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