EU to check whether Polish bill on judges undermines court independence

World

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission said on Monday it would closely examine whether a new Polish draft law undermines the independence of the judiciary, amid tensions between Brussels and Warsaw over democratic standards.

FILE PHOTO: People gather in front of the Presidential Palace during the “Chain of lights” protest against judicial overhaul in Warsaw, Poland July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

The EU has accused Poland’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party of politicizing the judiciary since it swept to power in 2015. PiS argues that the reforms are necessary to make Poland’s courts more efficient.

Under legislation PiS submitted to parliament on Dec. 12, judges could be sacked if they question the legitimacy of its judicial reforms. It also says judges must inform their superiors of past membership of political parties and of any activity in non-governmental organizations and on social media.

“The Commission continues to follow the situation in Poland closely,” a spokesman for the European Union’s executive, Christian Wigand, told a regular news briefing.

“The Commission will analyze the legislation proposed, in particular its compliance with EU law, regarding judicial independence,” he said.

PiS wants to prevent Polish judges from ruling that their peers, nominated by a panel appointed by PiS, are not independent and therefore that their rulings can be questioned.

Last month the EU’s top court, whose rulings under EU treaties trump national laws, said it was up to Poland’s Supreme Court to decide whether the PiS-appointed panel was independent. The Polish Supreme Court then ruled that it was not independent.

The Polish parliament is due to discuss the draft legislation this week.

“The Commission has a very clear position on protecting the judiciary from political interference,” Wigand said.

“We have already referred Poland to the Court of Justice of the EU regarding its new disciplinary regime for judges in October,” he added.

The EU has launched a rule-of-law investigation that could in theory lead to Poland losing its EU voting rights.

Brussels is also considering whether to link access to EU budget funds – of which Poland is a big beneficiary – to the rule of law and democratic standards

Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Gareth Jones

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