In a country visit report published Friday, Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, said the Polish government needs to do more to preserve judicial independence, citing “wide-ranging judicial reforms [which] have met with serious concern” from stakeholders.
The Commissioner’s report is the culmination of a five day visit in which “the Commissioner held discussions on the independence of the judiciary and the prosecution service as well as issues pertaining to the rights of women, gender equality and domestic violence.”
Mijatović noted that Poland’s wide-ranging judicial reform has had a major impact on the country’s justice system. Since taking office in 2015 Poland’s Eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) party has enacted judicial reforms that many have said are “endangering the rule of law, democracy and human rights.” The reforms have impacted the effectiveness of the Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, the country’s judicial body established to adjudicate disputes on the constitutionality of the activities of state institutions.
The commissioner expressed serious concerns with the independence of the judiciary and the prosecutorial service under the current system and ongoing reforms. Specifically noting the “publicly-financed campaign to discredit judges as well as negative statements made by high-ranking officials, the Commissioner recalled that members of the executive and the legislature have a duty to avoid criticism that would undermine the independence of or public confidence in the judiciary and urged the Polish authorities to exercise responsibility and to lead by example in their public discourse.”
The Commissioner urged the Polish authorities to take steps to resolve deadlock between the Constitutional Tribunal and the Executive Branch, “by recognising the legitimacy of the election of the three judges by the previous Sejm and by re-establishing dialogue and cooperation between the Constitutional Tribunal and other constitutional bodies.” (The Sejm is the lower-house of the Polish Parliament, responsible for choosing the 15 judges that make up the Constitutional Tribunal.)
Additionally, Mijatović noted serious concerns regarding the lowering of the retirement age for Supreme Court and Supreme Administrative Court, in which several judges were forcibly removed. A sentiment echoing the ruling of an EU Court on Monday, which held the lowering of the retirement age as contrary to EU law and principle.
The report also raised concerns for the lack of action toward addressing “a key judgment against Poland on access to abortion and the related care.” Mijatović noted “repeated attempts to further restrict Poland’s already very restrictive legislation governing access to abortion, including a bill currently pending in the Polish Parliament” which “seeks to roll back women’s access to their sexual and reproductive rights.”
The report indicates satisfaction with Poland’s average gender pay gap, which is among the lowest in the EU, but invites officials to “take measures to prevent and combat sexism and its manifestations in the public and private spheres.”
According to the report, violence against women and domestic violence is another area in which Poland is encouraged to act. The main concern is regarding the “abrupt and/or unexplained interruption of access to central government funding which affected several well-established and reputable women’s rights organisations, in recent years.” Mijatović “invites authorities to take steps to increase public awareness about domestic violence and to do more to identify and promote champions of women’s rights and gender equality. She also encourages all politicians and opinion-makers to give vocal support to the advancement of women’s rights, gender equality, and the fight against domestic violence.”
Watch the report in a nutshell (video).