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Council of Europe anti-corruption group criticises weakening independence of courts and judges in Poland

Founcil of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) has now re-assessed legislation passed in respect of Poland’s judiciary in 2017-18, including the new amendments to the laws on the National Council of the Judiciary, the Supreme Court and the Law on Ordinary Courts of April and May 2018.

GRECO is concerned that Poland no longer complies with anti-corruption standards in so far as these relate to judicial independence.

In its report, GRECO expresses particular criticism of the fact that a large number of Supreme Court judges are imminently forced to retire early and that the legislation allows for a discretionary re-appointment process by which the President of Poland may select and “de facto” re-appoint certain judges.

GRECO also criticises the excessive political influence given in respect of appointments of members to the National Council of the Judiciary – a body that exists to protect judicial independence – who are now appointed through a political process in Parliament and no longer elected by their peers, as required by European standards.

Extensive powers provided to the executive branch over disciplinary proceedings in respect of all judges, i.e. that the President of Poland and the Minister of Justice (who is also the Prosecutor General) may initiate and intervene in such internal processes is also criticised in the report.

All these measures raise serious concerns in respect of judicial independence and the rule of law.

In addition, GRECO disapproves of the establishment of an extraordinary appeals chamber at the Supreme Court, which gravely affects the Polish legal order and which is problematic due to its retroactivity.

GRECO’s report coincides with fundamental criticism voiced by other international institutions and addresses six specific recommendations to Poland, requiring the country to amend the legislation in order to re-establish judicial independence. “There cannot be an effective fight against corruption without a truly independent judiciary: I call on the Polish authorities to swiftly implement GRECO recommendations. This is in the interest of Poland and its citizens, as well as Europe as a whole”, said Marin Mrčela, President of GRECO.

Addendum to the fourth round evaluation report on poland rule 34 adopt