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Disciplinary tribunal rules on columns written by retired prosecutor

Prosecutor General’s Disciplinary Tribunal found Beata Mik, a retired prosecutor of the Prosecutor General’s Office, guilty of a disciplinary infraction, imposing the penalty of official warning.

Charges

Let us remind our readers that Ms Mik is the long-standing author of many columns published in press titles, including Rzeczpospolita, a popular national daily newspaper. In March 2018, she was accused of not having notified her superiors of her further collaboration with the title, which had allegedly “weakened public trust in the independence of the prosecution service and prosecutors”. The accusation related to the articles published in 2016 and 2017, whereas Beata Mik started writing for Rzeczpospolita in 2008.  Already in 2000, the prosecutor obtained the consent of then-incumbent Prosecutor General for engaging in the work of a columnist. In November 2016, she informed the National Prosecutor of her intention to conclude a contract for the assignment of copyrights to her columns with the newspaper’s publisher. Ms Mik did not sign this contract, complying with the National Prosecutor’s objection, which was not accompanied by any statement of justification.

Tribunal’s decision

The Disciplinary Tribunal ruled that Ms Mik had not performed her obligation to notify the National Prosecutor of her engagement in a different professional activity. The Tribunal considered her behaviour a violation of professional integrity. According to the Tribunal, the imposed penalty of warning, on the one hand, constitutes an appropriate reaction to the degree of social harm that offence (the failure to perform a disclosure obligation) presents and, on the other, is a sanction proportionate to the disciplined person’s fault. In imposing this relatively lenient penalty, the Tribunal took into account the exemplary track record of Ms Mik’s professional performance as an officer of the Prosecution Service. The Tribunal’s ruling contained no reference to the undermining of public trust in the independence of the prosecution service and prosecutors, the conduct that a Deputy Disciplinary Officer imputed to Ms Mik in the disciplinary complaint.

The Tribunal held that an objection that may be raised by a supervising prosecutor is a discretionary power and may be used at a supervising prosecutor’s will. According to the Disciplinary Tribunal, a prosecutor is not required to notify their superior of literary activities that involve writing strictly academic publications but is obliged to submit such a notification in the case of taking on a columnist’s role.

Prosecutors’ freedom of speech

“Beata Mik has been writing for Rzeczpospolita since 2008, so it is difficult to maintain that she needed to notify this fact to her superiors in 2016. However, irrespective of the procedural dimension of the case, it has a major impact on the exercise of prosecutors’ freedom of speech. The structure and activities of the prosecution service are a permanent theme discussed as part of public debate in Poland. Arguably, this debate cannot be pursued without the participation of the most interested party: the prosecutors”, HFHR legal expert Dr Barbara Grabowska-Moroz commented on the ruling.

The HFHR observed the proceedings.

The ruling is not yet final and may be appealed in the Supreme Court.


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