WARSAW, Poland (AP) – The European Union’s Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the new Polish rules for appointing judges to the Supreme Court could violate EU law. This opinion was immediately denied by the Justice Minister and other judicial officials in Warsaw.
The judgment obliges the right-wing Polish government to repeal these regulations and to comply with the principles of the independence of the judiciary and the right to judicial protection.
The EU strongly criticizes Poland’s Conservative government for the changes it has made to the judiciary since it came to power in 2015, saying it undermines the country’s rule of law.
In a ruling that could have a strong impact on future court rulings related to court appointments, the ruling also allows Polish courts not to apply the state rules introduced in 2018 and 2019 if they believe they are inconsistent stand by EU law.
Legislation in Poland increased political influence over courts and a supreme judicial authority, the National Council of Justice, including the process of appointment to the Supreme Court. It has also restricted the right of judges to appeal against the decisions of the council.
The rules, “which suspend an effective judicial review of the decisions of this council … (propose candidates) for the office of judge at the Supreme Court – may violate EU law,” the European Court of Justice said in its decision.
The European Commission will monitor how Poland implements the ruling, said Christian Wigand, his rule of law official.
Official reactions from Warsaw were hostile.
Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said the ruling was “unacceptable to us” because it “does not take into account the legal and constitutional order of the country at all”.
Judge Julia Przylebska, head of the Polish judicial review legislation, also said the ruling was an “obvious violation of the Polish constitutional order” and undermined the “foundations of the European Union as a community of sovereign states”.
Przylebska was one of the first judicial appointments of the right-wing government.
A member of the ruling Law and Justice Party, attorney Krystyna Pawlowicz, also criticized the judgment, saying that it “has no legal basis and is contrary to the Polish legal system”.
But many others in Poland welcomed the decision.
“The (EU) court has set limits to political power,” said lawyer Marcjanna Debska. “It is not only related to the regulations, but also to the political situation, and that means that the court can clearly see what is going on in Poland.”
Opposition party leader Borys Budka said the verdict was the “triumph of the law over lawlessness.”
The judgment was in response to a request from the Polish Supreme Administrative Court to the European Court regarding a complaint from some judges. Polish judges said the new rules had deprived them of the right to appeal against a decision rejecting them as candidates for the Supreme Court.
On the basis of Tuesday’s ruling, the Polish Supreme Administrative Court can now decide to review the appeals of the five judges who are not government loyalists. It could be decided that the entire 2018 Supreme Court appointment process was flawed and ineffective.
Some said the court’s decision supports several previous warnings from EU bodies to Poland regarding compliance with the bloc’s rule of law.
The verdict on the “political interference of the Polish government in the judiciary” is concrete evidence that the government openly violates the rule of law despite multiple warnings. It also destroys Europe’s trust in the legal system there, ”said Jeroen Lenaers, a member of the European Parliament.
An earlier version of this story has been corrected to say that Poland’s highest administrative court appealed to the European Court of Justice, not the judges themselves.