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EU legal expert criticizes Polish justice independence

June 27, 2019

BRUSSELS (AP) — A top European Union justice official said Thursday that a newly created disciplinary body at Poland’s Supreme Court is not up to EU legal standards.

In his opinion, Court of Justice Advocate General Evgeni Tanchev said the Disciplinary Chamber of Poland’s Supreme Court “does not satisfy the requirements of judicial independence under EU laws.”

The disciplinary body, created by the ruling Law and Justice party, was given the power to discipline judges over their conduct and rulings. Chamber members are chosen by the National Council for the Judiciary, which had its appointment process changed so politicians pick the members.

Tanchev argued the National Council for the Judiciary does not appear to be free from political influence.

The opinion was the second challenge this week to an overhaul of Poland’s judicial system that gives the government more control of the courts. The changes to the judicial system have raised concerns at the EU over rule of law in Poland.

The European Court of Justice ruled Monday that the law that pushed Supreme Court judges into early retirement violates EU law

EU legal advisers’ opinions are not binding, but the Court of Justice follows their advice in most cases, though not in all.

Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro sharply criticized the advocate general’s opinion, arguing it overstepped the EU’s mandate and intruded on Poland’s sovereignty.

He also said he did not believe the Court of Justice would ultimately rule in line with the advocate general’s opinion.

“It boils down to a defense of pathology,” Ziobro said.

Both EU court developments were welcomed by those in Poland who fear changes to the judicial system promoted by the right-wing ruling party, Law and Justice, have eroded judicial independence and the country’s democratic culture more generally.

Krystian Markiewicz, president of an association of Polish judges, Iustitia, called Tanchev’s opinion “crushing for the so-called reforms of Law and Justice” and in his view revealed “their hypocrisy and the aim of politicizing the courts.”

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