ECJ rules against Poland on appointment of insufficiently independent judges

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has found that Poland’s Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court acted undemocratically by appointing judges who are not sufficiently neutral, invalidating a Polish court decision.

Judge Waldemar Zurek had been transferred from the second-instance division to the first-instance division after he publicly criticized the government’s judicial reforms—an ostensible demotion. Zurek brought an appeal, which was dismissed by the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS). He then brought an appeal of the dismissal to the Supreme Court. He also brought forth a petition asking that the judges sitting on the Chamber of Extraordinary Control and Public Affairs, Supreme Court (CECPA), be excluded from the hearing of his appeal. His argument was that the way in which the judges who would be hearing the case had been appointed was unconstitutional, and therefore they could not examine his appeal impartially and independently.

On March 8, 2019, a single Judge on CECPA dismissed Zurek’s appeal as “inadmissible” before his petition for exclusion of the judges had even been heard.

The ECJ reviewed the entire matter and found Wednesday that the courts breached both Article 19(1) of the Treaty on European Union and Article 47 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (CFR), the right to a fair trial. Given this, the judge’s decision to dismiss Zurek’s appeal was voided.

The ECJ’s decision highlights existing tensions between the EU and Poland as a result of the EU’s purported interference in Poland’s social and legislative system. Poland’s Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Keleta tweeted, “The EU has no right to interfere with the Polish Judiciary,” demonstrating rising animosity between Europe and Poland. And Poland’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Polish law takes supremacy over EU law.