HFHR comments Judge Czubieniak’s case
The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights has presented a position statement on the appeal against the disciplinary judgment imposed on judge Alina Czubieniak. Given the unclear legal status of the Court’s Disciplinary Chamber, the letter was addressed to the President of the Supreme Court.
Alina Czubieniak is a judge of the Regional Court in Gorzów Wielkopolski. In August 2016, she issued a decision to revoke the pre-trial detention of a suspect with an intellectual disability who was accused of sexually harassing a person under the statutory age of consent. The suspect, who cannot read or write, did not have a lawyer during the detention hearing. Judge Czubieniak found that under these circumstances the suspect did not have a guaranteed right to a defence and ordered his release from pre-trial detention. Less than two weeks later, when the suspect was re-arrested, he was detained in a remand centre with a psychiatric unit.
In December 2017, a disciplinary officer brought disciplinary action against Judge Czubieniak, claiming that her revocation of pre-trial detention constituted a “manifest and gross” violation of the law. A disciplinary court acquitted Judge Czubieniak of this disciplinary offence, but this decision was appealed by the disciplinary officer and the Minister of Justice. In March 2019, the case was heard by the newly created Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, which issued the sanction of admonition, against the judge. This was the first time when the new Disciplinary Chamber has issued a sanction against a judge for a ruling. Judge Czubieniak appealed against the judgment of the Disciplinary Chamber.
HFHR comments on the case
In its position statement, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights raised the following points:
- The effectiveness of repressive systems, including disciplinary regimes, depends on the enforceability of their decisions and their impact in the areas of general and individual prevention. Only a fully independent court offers the opportunity to conduct fair proceedings in respect of the individual’s right to a court.
- Disciplinary proceedings may not be used as a means of assessing judgments issued by independent judges. However, even if such an assessment is undertaken, it should be carried out subject to international standards on pre-trial detention and access to a lawyer.
- Disciplinary proceedings should not be initiated in response to a judge’s EU-friendly interpretation of laws based on an already adopted EU Directive and existing international standards.
A failure to ensure the right of access to a lawyer for a suspect who is clearly identifiable as satisfying the criteria for mandatory defence may constitute a serious breach of applicable standards.