The judicial system reforms undertaken since 2015 by the conservative ruling party in Poland have “a negative impact” on the independence of the judiciary, according to the Council of Europe, which warns of the risks of corruption of judges, in a report released on Thursday.
“The current situation (…) has a negative impact on the independence of the judiciary, in particular with regard to the appointment of judges,” said the experts of the Group of States against Corruption (Greco), one of the organs of the Council.
At the beginning of March, the deputies of the ruling conservative party, the Law and Justice Party (PiS), approved through these reforms a list of 15 judges to replace members of the National Judicial Council previously elected by the judiciary.
In its report, Greco denounces the “excessive legislative influence” on the judiciary and recommends ensuring “that at least half of the members of this Council, whose primary role is to appoint judges, are elected by their peers.”
Greco also highlights a law passed in December, which forces the retirement of almost half of Poland’s Supreme Court judges by lowering the retirement age to 65, unless waived by the President.
“The amended legislation increases the political influence that can be exercised on judges of the Supreme Court,” says the experts.
Finally, “the excessive discretionary powers of the Minister of Justice vis-à-vis the judiciary,” amplified by the merger of his cabinet with that of the Attorney General in 2016, are of “particular concern”, according to Greco.
These vast changes “do not respect the Council of Europe anti-corruption standards”, the experts summarize in the conclusions of the report, drawn up after an “urgent and exceptional evaluation” mission carried out in December by the Council of Europe.
Since coming to power in October 2015, the conservatives of Law and Justice (PiS) have initiated a series of justice reforms criticised by the Polish judiciary and the European Commission.