Poland top court rules human rights ombudsman may not remain in post until successor elected
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Poland top court rules human rights ombudsman may not remain in post until successor elected

Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal on Thursday ruled that the country’s human rights commissioner, or ombudsman, may not continue holding their position after the end of their term until a successor is elected.

As a result of the ruling, Adam Bodnar, whose term ended in September, will be removed. He had been appointed with the backing of the parties now forming the opposition. The parliament had been unable to agree on a replacement as the opposition enjoys a majority in the Senate. Ruling party lawmakers asked the tribunal in mid-September to declare Article 3(6) of the Act on the Commissioner for Human Rights unconstitutional. The article reads, “The previous Commissioner fulfils their obligations until taking up the position by the new Commissioner.”

The tribunal found the article inconsistent with the constitution. According to Gazeta Wyborcza, a Polish newspaper, the justification of the court’s decision reads, “The Act on the Commissioner for Human Rights is inconsistent with the Constitution, which defines the Commissioner’s term of office as five years. A term of office is a strictly defined period of time that cannot be exceeded. The Commissioner’s term of office cannot be longer.”

Bodnar had on Monday succeeded in obtaining the suspension of a state-controlled oil company’s takeover of media group Polska Press. He expressed fears that the government may appoint a commissioner with a view to taking control of the independent office. Bartłomiej Wróblewski was on Thursday elected by the Sejm, the lower chamber of Poland’s parliament, as the new commissioner. The decision needs approval from the Senate. In 2019, Wróblewski submitted a motion to the tribunal for reviewing the law that allowed abortion due to fetal defects, which led to the tribunal barring abortion due to such reason in 2020.

In 2015, soon after the Law and Justice Party (PiS) came to power, it passed a law imposing limitations on the tribunal. Concerns over judicial independence in the country continue to be raised. The Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court of Poland in November deprived a district court judge of his immunity from prosecution. The judge was known to be critical of PiS’s controversial judicial reforms. Earlier this month, the European Commission referred Poland to the European Court of Justice over a recently-adopted law that allegedly undermines the independence of judges.

Following Thursday’s ruling, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović tweeted:

The judgment will take effect on July 15. The tribunal asked lawmakers to amend the law in the intervening time.