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Excessively lengthy proceedings in courts: waiting for changes

During its next session, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers will discuss the execution of a judgment, in which the European Court of Human Rights addressed the problem of excessive lengthy court proceedings in Poland. The HFHR has presented its review of actions so far taken in this area by Polish authorities.

What did ECtHR rule?

In Rutkowski and Others v. Poland, the ECtHR ruled that the excessive length of proceedings and the practice of considering complaints against excessive length are a systemic problem in Poland. In particular, the ECtHR noted that parties aggrieved by excessively lengthy proceedings received insufficient amounts of compensation and pointed to the so-called “fragmentation”, or the incorrect practice of measuring proceedings’ duration only within the confines of a given procedural stage. “The ECtHR decision in Rutkowski was a pilot judgment, which means that it obliged Poland to take further action in order to ensure that the practice of Polish courts is brought in line with the Convention. At the same time, the Court suspended the hearing of nearly 600 similar applications and gave Poland two years for settling the cases in an amicable manner”, explains Katarzyna Wiśniewska, an attorney working for the HFHR.

Statement of HFHR

In its statement, the HFHR focused on the general execution of the Rutkowski judgment, namely on legislative actions taken by Polish authorities in order to increase the effectiveness of judicial proceedings and improve the mechanism of the complaint against excessively lengthy proceedings.

Insufficient changes

Addressing the complaint issue, the HFHR noted that in November 2016 the Sejm adopted a law that amended the Excessively Lengthy Proceedings Complaint Act. The amendment was designed to ensure the execution of the Rutkowski judgment. “Unfortunately, this goal hasn’t been fully attained. Although the amendment has effectively dealt with the “fragmentation” of proceedings, it hasn’t yet been able to guarantee that monetary amounts awarded in compensation for excessive length are sufficiently high”, HFHR lawyer Marcin Szwed indicates. The amount of available compensation is still capped at PLN 20,000 and the Act sets out an astoundingly low amount of maximum compensation for each year of proceedings (PLN 500).

Threat to judicial independence

The HFHR also noted that the government-backed reforms would not only fail to improve the operation of the justice system but may also have a negative impact on the independence of the judiciary. In this respect, the HFHR indicated, among other things, the controversy surrounding the re-establishment of the position of an associate judge, and the currently processed proposals of the National Judiciary Council Act and the Supreme Court Act. The Foundation also negatively responded to the Justice Minister’s failure to publicly notify current judicial openings, which may thwart any attempts to fill several hundred vacancies in courts all around Poland. The statement also addressed the President’s refusal to appoint candidates for judges presented by the National Council of the Judiciary (to find out more about this matter, click here).


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