New Polish justice minister accused of violating constitution and the rule of law

“An environment is being created in which judges are afraid to rule. This is a violation of all standards of the rule of law,” said Poland’s chief justice

editor: Grzegorz Adamczyk
author: niezalezna.pl
The new Polish Justice Minister Adam Bodnar, 2020. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Measures being proposed by Poland’s new justice minister, Adam Bodnar, are aimed at rolling back judicial reforms implemented by the former Law and Justice (PiS) government. Now, critics say that the measures threaten the rule of law and violate the constitution.

Bodnar’s proposals concern judges appointed after the previous Law and Justice (PiS) government overhauled the National Judicial Council (KRS), the body constitutionally tasked with nominating judges, in 2017. They are to be excluded from being assigned to cases in which the presence of judges who were recommended by the KRS was challenged. 

The justice minister claims that this is simply an enforcement of rulings by EU bodies and encouragement for judges to apply these rulings directly. His policy is being contested by PiS and senior judges, such as the head of the Supreme Court and the head of the Constitutional Court.

The president of the Supreme Court, Małgorzata Manowska, issued a statement saying that seeking to “exclude a significant category of judges from the assignment of cases” would violate the constitution. She also called Bodnar’s proposals “drastic interference in the sphere of judicial independence,” claiming that “even the communist regime” that ruled Poland until 1989 did not go so far.

“The new justice minister is beginning his term by submitting draft acts which, under the pretext of respecting international obligationsaim to violate the foundations of the constitutional order of Poland,” stated the president of the Supreme Court.

Another Supreme Court judge, Kamil Zaradkiewicz, who was also nominated by the reformed KRS, issued an open letter in which he likened the situation to martial law introduced by the communists in Poland in 1981 and demanded that Bodnar resign.

Meanwhile, Julia Przyłębska, chief justice of the Constitutional Court, claimed that “an environment is being created in which judges are afraid to rule. This is a violation of all standards of the rule of law.”

Krzysztof Szczucki, a former minister in the last PiS government, has also slammed the Bodnar proposals, saying that the president has the final say on who is and who is not a judge and that there must be no segregation between lawyers appointed by him. He said he believes that Bodnar’s proposals are divisive and unconstitutional and that the Constitutional Court will declare them to be invalid.

Szczucki said he fears that Bodnar’s approach will create serious turbulence in Poland’s legal system. His views were echoed by a senior MP and former minister from one of the parties of the ruling coalition, Marek Sawicki from the Polish People’s Party (PSL). Sawicki said that there is a need for a degree of consensus between the different parties and the president in order to find a compromise that will avoid conflict. 

During his eight years in office, President Andrzej Duda has appointed 3,000 judges to courts at different levels. Some of these were promotions and some were new nominations. These judges have ruled in hundreds of cases. If all of those were challenged, the Polish legal system would descend into chaos.

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