Poland’s New Leader: Judicial Reforms Opposed by EU Necessary to Reform Corrupt, Left-wing Judiciary

Poland’s new prime minister has laid out why judicial reforms the European Union has denounced as an “attack on the rule of law” are necessary to reform a corrupt judiciary shaped by the old Communist regime.

Mateusz Morawiecki, who has taken over from Beata Szydło as Prime Minister of Poland following a reshuffle within the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), made the case for the reforms in an article for the Washington Examiner.

“All year, we have struggled with the widespread misunderstanding of our plans to reform Poland’s deeply flawed judicial structure,” he began, citing the European Parliament’s attempts to initiate “never-before-invoked” proceedings to sanction his country because of them — although many in Central Europe suspect this move has more to do with Poland’s opposition to the EU’s migrant quota policy than the reforms themselves.

“No democratic nation can long accept having any branch of government independent of checks, balances, and public accountability. That is the judiciary’s status in today’s Poland,” Morawiecki explained.

“In the 1989 Roundtable Talks between Poland’s Communists and the democratic opposition, then-president General Wojciech Jaruzelski – the man who ran Poland’s martial law government for the Soviets – was allowed to nominate an entirely new bench of Communist-era judges to staff the post-communist courts. These judges dominated our judiciary for the next quarter century. Some remain in place.

“To this day, an elite council of 25, dominated by 15 judges on the appellate level or above, nominates all judges including their own successors. No trial judge or elected official participates. The president may accept or reject the nominees. The system lends itself to nepotism and corruption.”

Morawiecki highlted some particular examples such as the case of a judge “moonlighting as a loan shark” who could not be prosecuted because his peers “took so long deliberating his judicial immunity that the statute of limitations ran out” — allowing him to return to his position unpunished.

He also cited the case of a “highly respected professor of law and dean of his university [who] was turned down for a judgeship” in 2016, only for the position to be awarded to the “less-well-qualified son of a judge currently in office” at a later date.

“Favours go to friends. Vengeance is wreaked on rivals. Bribes are demanded in some of the most lucrative-looking cases. Proceedings have sometimes been dragged out interminably in the service of wealthy and influential defendants. Justice has too often not been available to those lacking political connections and large bank accounts,” he continued.

The prime minister said the reforms — for which his party received an unprecedented mandate during its landslide election victory in 2015 — could include opening up the appointments system to all judges rather than leaving it to restricted to a cabal of senior jurists, and establishing a disciplinary chamber of judges, lawyers and prosecutors, with the possibility of some participation from lay juries.

“Far from being dictatorial or compromising judicial independence, as some charge, [the reforms] will introduce precisely the kinds of checks and balances that all liberal-minded people cherish in their own democracies,” he asserted.

“Poland’s democracy is strong. With reforms to ensure that our citizens have access to impartial, prompt, efficient and incorruptible justice, it will become stronger.”

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