President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has said that the amendments to the law on the Supreme Court recently passed by the Polish parliament fail to guarantee judges the right to question the status of other judges without the risk of being held to account and disciplined.
In an interview with Polish daily Dziennik Gazeta Prawna (DGP), she warned that in order for Poland to receive funding from the EU recovery fund, Poland must fulfill the commitments it has made to reform the disciplinary system and must fully comply with rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
She cited the fact that suspended judges have still not been brought back to adjudicate in the courts.
The legislation on the Supreme Court proposed by Polish President Andrzej Duda came into effect in mid-July. It dissolved the Disciplinary Chamber, replacing it with a new chamber of professional accountability. The law was regarded as a compromise with the European Commission to end the rule of law dispute and thereby unlock EU funds. Since last July, the Commission has been pressing for Poland to implement a ruling by the ECJ that halted its right to suspend judicial immunity. The ECJ has fined Poland €1 million per day for failure to comply.
The chief legal advisor to the Polish president, Małgorzata Paprocka, said that she was very surprised at the stance taken by von der Leyen, and reminded her that the draft legislation was known to the Commission for several months and that Poland’s operational program was approved when its final draft was common knowledge.
Paprocka also questioned von der Leyen’s assertions about the lack of independence of Polish judges. She said that apart from EU law, the Polish constitution guarantees all citizens access to an impartial and independent court. She said that it is not possible for judges to adjudicate on the independence of other judges and that such a practice is not found in any legal system she knows.
The presidential aide also asked why the daily financial penalty continued when the ECJ ruling had been implemented by Poland. The Disciplinary Chamber has been dissolved and a system for testing the independence of judges when petitioned for by participants in court cases is now in place.