Poland breached EU law by creating a disciplinary chamber for its judges at the Supreme Court of Poland, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Thursday.
The ECJ held that establishing the disciplinary chamber did not “provide all the guarantees of impartiality and independence, and, in particular, is not protected from the direct or indirect influence of the Polish legislature and executive.”
The Disciplinary Chamber of the Poland Supreme Court, whose judges are elected by the Polish Parliament, was created as a result of a sweeping overhaul of the judiciary brought by the ruling right-wing Law and Justice Party in 2017. The law provided the chamber with the power to punish judges through a variety of disciplinary actions, including salary reduction and suspending them from work.
The court’s decision comes as a result of an application by the European Commission which asked the court to declare the new disciplinary regime did not comply with the guarantees of independence and impartiality as required for under article 19 of the Treaty on the European Union, which mandates that member states provide remedies sufficient to ensure effective legal protection.
In its determination, the ECJ found that:
taken together, the particular context and objective circumstances in which the Disciplinary Chamber was created, the characteristics of that chamber, and the way in which its members were appointed are such as to give rise to reasonable doubts in the minds of individuals as to the imperviousness of that body to external factors … which is likely to prejudice the trust which justice in a democratic society governed by the rule of law must inspire in those individuals.
The decision of the European Court is likely to add to existing tensions between the EU and Poland, especially following the recent ruling of the Polish constitutional court, which held the temporary injunctions issued by the European Court on the Polish judiciary were unconstitutional and were not binding on the government.