The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Thursday unanimously held that the Disciplinary Chamber of the Polish Supreme Court has violated Polish lawyer Joanna Reczkowicz’s right to a fair trial and does not represent a lawful tribunal.
Reczkowicz was suspended from practice for three years following a series of incidents when she was representing a client. She appealed the suspension, but the Polish Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Chamber—one of two new chambers established following changes to the Polish judiciary—dismissed her case in 2019. This led Reczkowicz to file a complaint with the ECHR, arguing that her case had not been heard by a lawfully established “independent and impartial tribunal.”
Specifically, Reczkowicz alleged that the judges of the Disciplinary Chamber who examined her case were political appointees of President Andrzej Duda, in violation of the principles of separation of powers and independence of the judiciary. Reczkowicz further argued that the true objective of the Disciplinary Chamber was to suppress any judicial opposition to changes in the Polish legal system that were proposed by the current government.
Upon review of the case, a seven-member bench of the ECHR concluded that Reczkowicz’s right to a fair trial under Article 6 § 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights was violated and that the Disciplinary Chamber is not a lawfully established tribunal. The Court elaborated that there had been a “manifest breach of domestic law” in that the “procedure for appointing judges which was unduly influenced by the legislative and executive powers was in itself incompatible with Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.”
The Court added that the National Council of the Judiciary (NCJ), established by the Amending Act of 2017 (“the Act”), did not provide sufficient guarantees of independence from the legislative and executive branches of the government, as the Act “deprived the judiciary of the right to elect judicial members” of the NCJ; an established right under prior law. Thus, according to the Court, the Act left the doors wide open for the legislative and executive branches to interfere “directly or indirectly” in the appointment of judges.
In reaching this conclusion, the Court relied on the Polish Supreme Court’s judgments in 2019 and 2020, which similarly found the procedure for judicial appointments to the Disciplinary Chamber to be a violation of domestic law.
The ECHR ordered the Polish government to pay Reczkowicz €15,000 in damages, and an additional €420 for costs and expenses.