Poland under PACE’s monitoring
The Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a resolution concerning the functioning of democratic institutions in Poland. The adoption of the resolution ends 4-year proceedings focusing on rule of law developments in Poland, however at the same time, the resolution opens full monitoring proceedings of Poland. Currently, the monitoring proceeding is applied to seven countries including among others Turkey, Albania and Georgia. Poland is the only EU member state subjected to the procedure now.
Rule of law crisis in Poland
In the end of 2015, the governing majority started the process of undermining the position of independent institutions such as courts, prosecution office and media. The process started with attacks on the Constitutional Tribunal – the adopted legal changes made the Tribunal and ineffective part of checks and balance mechanisms. The attacks triggered almost immediately the attention of all international organizations, including the Council of Europe. In response to the attacks, the PACE ordered the Monitoring Committee to prepare a report on functioning of democratic institutions in Poland.
In parallel to the process of preparing the report, the Polish governing majority adopted almost 20 different pieces of legislation regulating the works of the courts. “Instead of addressing the key problems of the judiciary system what all these changes had in common was widening the political control over courts” – says Małgorzata Szuleka, lawyer of Warsaw-based Helsinski Foundation for Human Rights.
Many of these changes were justified as allegedly inspired by solutions already adopted in other EU countries. The recently adopted calls this tactic a “Frankensteinisation of legislation” – a process in which the Polish governing majority selects certain elements of judiciary systems in other countries and use it to undermine the independence of the judiciary.
In last five years in Poland, the changes in judiciary system were underpinned by disciplinary proceedings launched against judges and smear campaigns run by public media which in some cases, according to the media reports, were inspired by top-ranks politicians including former deputy Minister of Justice. The PACE’s resolution calls upon the Polish authorities to cease the attacks and launch a public inquiry into these attacks.
“After four years of the systemic changes in the judiciary system there is no layer protecting judges from political interreference. Currently, their independence relies only on their knowledge, moral integrity and beyond that their courage” – says Małgorzata Szuleka.
The procedure entails regular visits by a pair of rapporteurs, who conduct an ongoing dialogue with authorities and plenary debates to ensure that a state’s progress and problems are honestly assessed.