“The European Commission will assess whether the recent changes in the Polish judiciary may lead to the payment of funds from the Reconstruction Fund only after the new law is implemented”, said the President of the European Commission, German, Ursula von der Leyen in Sweden. In question is about EUR 35.4 billion allocated to Poland from the EU Reconstruction Fund, dedicated to help the economies of EU countries to get out of crisis caused by the COVID pandemic.
The new draft law on the judiciary submitted by the Polish government in December 2022, and now adopted by the Sejm, is an important step towards fulfilling the obligations arising from Poland’s National Reconstruction Plan, European Commission spokesman Christian Wigand said. We will continue to follow closely the next steps of the ongoing legislative process, and then we will analyze the law finally adopted. We are in contact with the Polish authorities to ensure that Polish legislation is fully in line with the commitments made under the National Recovery Plan (in Polish: Krajowy Plan Odbudowy, KPO) in the field of judicial independence. It will be important that the adopted final law raises the standards of judicial protection and judicial independence, Wigand said.
On January 13, the Sejm passed an amendment to the law on the Supreme Court. The legislation will now go to the Senate. 203 deputies voted for the amendment, 52 were against, and 189 people abstained. According to the authors, the adopted amendment to the law on the Supreme Court by PiS is to fulfill the key “milestone” in order for the European Commission to unblock funds for the KPO. The assumptions of the act were negotiated during the talks of the EU Minister Szymon Szynkowski aka Sęk in Brussels.
According to these provisions, disciplinary and immunity cases of judges would be resolved by the Supreme Administrative Court, and not, as currently, by the Chamber of Professional Liability of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Administrative Court will adjudicate disciplinary cases of Supreme Court judges in the first instance in a 3-person panel, and in the second instance in a 5-person panel. In turn, in the case of judges of lower and military courts, the Supreme Administrative Court will be a disciplinary court in some cases in the first instance and in all cases in the second instance. The Supreme Administrative Court will also take over the competence to settle the so-called immunity cases of judges of all courts.
The amendment also provides for fundamental changes regarding the so-called test of independence and impartiality of the judge. It is intended to allow examining the judge’s compliance with the requirements of independence and impartiality, taking into account the circumstances surrounding his appointment and his conduct after the appointment, if the independence or impartiality standard could have been breached, affecting the outcome of the case. The possibility of such tests is provided for all judges, and in accordance with the applicable regulations, a request for such a test may be submitted by a party to the proceedings conducted by a given judge. According to the changes adopted on Friday, the judge’s impartiality test will be able to be initiated not only by the party to the proceedings, but also by the court itself “ex officio”.
President Andrzej Duda stated that he did not participate in the preparation of the project nor was he consulted on it. He appealed for calm and constructive parliamentary work on the bill and stressed that he would not agree to solutions that undermine the constitutional system and would not allow any legal act to be introduced into the Polish legal system that would undermine judicial appointments or allow anyone to verify them.