LUXEMBOURG (CN) — Coming to the aid of the Polish judiciary, Europe’s Court of Justice on Wednesday ordered the shutdown of an inquisitory panel of nationalist politicians who have been culling Poland’s established judges and recasting the judicial branch in their mold.
Provisional measures are needed “in order to avoid serious and irreparable harm,” a 13-judge panel of the European Court of Justice found. The ruling was not available in English.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, requested the provisional measures in its case against Poland in January, arguing the country has ignored previous rulings against it.
“Despite the judgments, the disciplinary chamber continues to operate, creating a risk of irreparable damage for Polish judges and increasing the chilling effect on the Polish judiciary,” the commission said in a statement.
The Luxembourg-based Court of Justice held a hearing on the matter in March, just days before the court canceled all proceedings due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
In 2017, Poland’s nationalist government, led by the Law and Justice party, created a new judicial body, the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, which has the power to punish judges for engaging in political activity. Members of the body are not judges and are appointed by parliament.
The European Commission filed its original complaint against Poland in October 2019, arguing that the new disciplinary body doesn’t not guarantee judicial independence and impartiality.
A month later, in November, the Court of Justice found in a preliminary ruling that the disciplinary chamber was not “an independent and impartial tribunal.” That case concerned three Polish judges who were forced to resign under another law passed by the Law and Justice party that lowered the mandatory retirement age. The Court of Justice held that law violated EU law in June of last year.
The judges were ultimately reinstated, but the case had been referred back to the Court of Justice by the Polish Supreme Court, which wanted to know if the disciplinary chamber was sufficiently independent.
The Polish Supreme Court agreed with the EU court’s assessment on the lack of independence in two cases in December and January, but the disciplinary chamber continued to operate, leading the European Commission to request provisional measures until the case can be heard on the merits.
“We have now reached the unprecedented and frightening stage where Polish judges are being subject to harassment tactics,” Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and others said in an open letter calling for the Court of Justice to issue sanctions against Poland.
The EU’s top court sided with the commission Wednesday, ordering Poland to immediately suspend the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court. The ruling is an interim decision until the court issues a final ruling on the merits of the commission’s case against Poland.
“I welcome the decision of the European Court of Justice on our concerns regarding the disciplinary chamber. Independent judges are key for democracy and rule of law,” Věra Jourová , the European Commission’s vice president for values and transparency, said on Twitter.
Sebastian Kaleta, Poland’s deputy justice minister, slammed the ruling in his own tweet.
“The ECJ does not have the competence to judge or to suspend constitutional national bodies of member states,” Kaleta wrote.