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Poland Loses EU Top Court Fight Over Curbs on Judges

Poland Loses EU Top Court Fight Over Curbs on Judges
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Monday, 05 June, 2023, 23:30

The EU's top court ruled on Monday (5 June) that a 2019 Polish judicial reform violated EU law, serving another legal blow to the Warsaw government which also faced mass protests on Sunday.

The ruling is yet another legal defeat on the (now replaced) disciplinary chamber for the judiciary, which was set up to discipline judges that criticised the government of the ruling nationalist Law and Justice party.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) said Poland's judicial reform infringes EU law because it undermines the right to have access to an independent and impartial judiciary.

"The measures thus adopted by the Polish legislature are incompatible with the guarantees of access to an independent and impartial tribunal previously established by law," the court's statement said.

"Polish justice reform of December 2019 infringes EU law," the court stressed, adding that "the value of the rule of law is an integral part of the very identity of the European Union as a common legal order."

The Polish chamber has been repeatedly criticised, by the EU Commission and civil society organisations, as a political tool to exert control over the judiciary.

The ECJ said it had the right to monitor compliance with the rule of law, effective judicial protection, and the independence of the judiciary in member states — countering Polish arguments of sovereignty.

The ECJ ruling also struck down another part of that disciplinary system introduced in 2020, and dubbed by critics as the 'muzzle law'.

This allowed judges to be punished for refusing to accept the validity of judicial reforms and for questioning the status of other judges appointed under those reforms.

The ruling also challenged the obligations for judges to publish online declarations on membership in associations, non-profit foundations or political parties, saying it violated their right to privacy.

The ECJ's decision automatically stops the fines which the commission set out for Poland as penalties for disregarding an earlier provisional measure by the ECJ to close down the disciplinary chamber.

Poland was due to pay a record €1 million a day since October 2021, which was reduced to half a million euros since April 21 of this year after the disciplinary chamber was replaced with a "chamber of professional responsibility."

The total bill for Poland is €556m, of which the commission has deducted €360m from transfers of EU funds to Poland.

Monday's ECJ ruling is final, which means Poland now has to amend its judicial overhaul or face new financial penalties.