EU flags outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. Picture: REUTERS/FRANÇOIS LENOIR
EU flags outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. Picture: REUTERS/FRANÇOIS LENOIR

Brussels — Poland faces yet another challenge at the EU’s top court over its controversial disciplinary regime for judges and a law aimed at punishing those who are too critical.

The European Commission on Wednesday said it will also ask the EU court of justice to suspend the Polish measures pending a final ruling, “to prevent the aggravation of serious and irreparable harm inflicted to judicial independence and the EU legal order”.

“The Polish law on the judiciary undermines the independence of Polish judges and is incompatible with the primacy of EU law,” the commission said in a statement. It “prevents Polish courts, including by using disciplinary proceedings, from directly applying certain provisions of EU law protecting judicial independence, and from putting references for preliminary rulings on such questions to the court of justice”.

While the EU has repeatedly warned that Poland’s sweeping judicial overhaul endangers judicial independence, the government has said it is reforming an inefficient court system and told the bloc to stay out of its internal affairs. Critics of the contested law that boosts penalties for judges who question the validity of government reforms have said it’s a measure used to frighten and muzzle opponents.

The EU’s top tribunal in 2020 ordered Poland to “immediately suspend” its controversial disciplinary regime for judges, which came as a setback for the nationalist government. The commission then questioned Poland’s inadequate implementation of that ruling, just weeks before the nation held elections.

The Polish supreme court’s disciplinary chamber has continued to rule despite legal uncertainty. It has issued verdicts that strip immunity from judges who had publicly opposed the government’s judicial reforms or sent questions regarding the changes to the European court of justice.

The commission on Wednesday said Poland “violates EU law” by allowing this chamber, “the independence of which is not guaranteed” to take decisions that directly affect the work of judges.

“These matters include cases of the lifting of immunity of judges with a view to bringing criminal proceedings against them or detain them, and the consequent temporary suspension from office and the reduction of their salary,” the commission said. “This seriously undermines judicial independence and the obligation to ensure effective legal protection, and thus the EU legal order as a whole.”

Bloomberg

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