Threats against judicial independence in Poland

Who we wrote to

The president of the Republic of Poland, Hon Andrzej Duda.

What’s the issue

The Polish authorities have adopted amendments to the Act of the National Council of the Judiciary and the Law on Common Courts Organisation.

We believe that this is a worrying development that will undermine fundamental principles concerning the separation of power between the executive, legislative and the judiciary. We’re seriously concerned that these changes will have a detrimental impact on the operation of the rule of law in Poland.

We understand that the Act on the National Council of the Judiciary provides, among other things, for the expiry of the term of office of a significant number of current members of the National Council of the Judiciary. Such members are currently being appointed by other judges but would in future be appointed by the Sejm (the lower house of the Polish Parliament).

We understand that the amendments to the Law on Common Courts Organisation change procedures regarding the appointment and possibility to recall presidents of Courts during their term of office and give the minister of justice the authority to take some of these measures.

We've been informed that the Sejm also adopted a new Act on the Supreme Court. The draft act apparently provides for the retirement of all judges of the Supreme Court upon entry into force of the Act, except for judges designated by the Minister of Justice.

We consider these developments to be of great concern, especially in light of a previous legislative development, the new Act on the Constitutional Tribunal of 22 July 2016. The adoption of a series of Acts that all negatively affect the independence of the judiciary, in its institutional structure and possibly its decision-making, suggests a systematic policy of the Polish Government to restrict such independence.

Poland gradually alienates itself from the community of democratic nations. This is a worrying development for members of the judiciary and of the legal profession more widely and for all Polish citizens who rely on access to justice and independent courts and tribunals.

What we asked for

We urged the president and the relevant authorities to:

  • exercise the president's veto right not to sign the Law on Common Courts Organisation and take all measures necessary to prevent its entry into force
  • take all necessary measures to reverse any adopted amendments that have already entered into force and that would negatively affect the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law
  • ensure that any revision of the amendments and the relevant Acts are in line with the international obligations and standards set out in the Annex to this letter
  • take no further actions, of whatever nature, that would undermine directly or indirectly the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law in Poland

We’ll continue to monitor the situation and support the independence of the legal profession and its members in Poland.