EU court asks Polish judges to ignore national laws violating bloc law –

Judges applying to join Poland’s Supreme Court should have the right to appeal the opinions of a body that examines candidates, the EU’s highest court said on Tuesday (March 2), highlighting a disagreement over the state of right between Warsaw and Brussels.

While Tuesday’s verdict of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) said the final decision in such cases rests with a Polish court, the judgment concerns a public body which critics say has become a tool to politicize the judiciary.

Poland is caught up in a long-standing row with the EU over reforms which the bloc says undermine the independence of the courts by increasing political control over judges. The ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party says reforms are needed to make the courts more efficient and to purge the country’s communist-era relics from the justice system.

The case concerned the appeal by five candidates for the Supreme Court of Poland, whose chances of appearing in the highest judicial body in the country were crushed in August 2018 by the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), which is responsible for appointing judges and examining ethics complaints. .

Under legislation introduced by the Polish parliament in July 2018, just a month before the KRS decision to overturn the nomination of the five Supreme Court candidates, every candidate, including the winners, had to join the appeal. , otherwise the decision of the KRS has become final.

In 2019, the Polish parliament subsequently amended the law to prohibit appeals against decisions of the KRS regarding proposed appointments to the Supreme Court. The amendments also ended all pending appeals, including the one pending before the CJEU.

The EU’s highest court has said that “the possible lack of any legal recourse” in matters of appointment can be problematic and “can raise systemic doubts in the minds of individuals as to independence and impartiality judges”.

EU judges ruled that the ability to appeal KRS rulings would be necessary to protect the appointment process from outside influence if national courts found that the body itself lacked independence.

The CJEU left it to the Polish courts to judge for themselves whether the change in the law on appointments went against the rules of the bloc. However, if they did, EU law would oblige them “not to apply these amendments,” Luxembourg judges said.

The ECJ said the system of cooperation between national and European courts as well as the “principle of sincere cooperation” prevented changes in laws that would prevent EU judges from ruling on issues already referred to them, or from referring similar questions in the future.

The Court also declared that the responsibility of EU countries to provide legal protection in the areas covered by Union law would make illegal any modification which could give rise to “legitimate doubts, in the minds of subjects of law. “, As to the neutrality and” impermeability “of judges to” the influence of the legislature and the executive “.

The Court of Justice has ruled that successive amendments to a law on the National Council of the Judiciary, which effectively remove judicial review of its decisions, could violate EU law. The Council assesses judicial appointments.

“When a violation has been proven, the principle of the rule of EU law requires that the national court not apply to these changes,” the court said.

Critics said this led to the Council becoming politicized.

The court said EU law prohibits amendments that could lead to judges not being seen as independent or impartial.

“It is ultimately for the referring court to rule on whether this is the case in the present case”, he declared.

The judgment comes as the European Commissioner for Values ​​and Transparency, Vera Jourova, and Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders sent a letter in response to the previous communication from Krystian Markiewicz, the head of Iustitia, of the association Polish judges.

5,231 judges and prosecutors, mainly European, but also American, had signed the document.

The commissioners declared that they “understand the very difficult situation of many judges in Poland” and recalled that the CJEU had ordered the temporary suspension of the decision of the disciplinary chamber.

“Polish judges are European judges. They must perform their duties with a guarantee of independence and without causing a “freezing effect” against them and their activity, “wrote Jourova and Reynders.

In the letter, the commissioners also underlined that the changes in the Polish judicial system “violate the independence of Polish judges and are incompatible with the principle of the supremacy of EU law”.

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

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