The ruling conservative party in Poland has taken another step towards the takeover of the judicial system. The Law and Justice (PiS) had its own candidates elected to the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), a constitutional body supposed to ensure the independence of the judiciary.
The centrist opposition has boycotted the vote in parliament on the selection of new KRS members, held under a law repeatedly denounced as unconstitutional both in Poland and by many international institutions.
PiS argues that the measures will bring much-needed reform to the court which it describes as operating like a corrupt “caste”.
According to Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, the KRS is an institution with “roots in the communist era”, headed by “people well placed in the former communist regime.”
The KRS “did nothing to cleanse its own ranks of judges who had sentenced Polish patriots to death” during the Stalinist trials of the 1950s, said the minister.
The PiS deputies, backed by the nationalist Kukiz’15 group, have enlisted the 15-member bench to replace the current KRS members elected by the judiciary.
“The mandate of the KRS has been broken and a new disciplinary chamber is being set up, which I think will aim to do the dirty work of getting rid of unsavory judges,” KRS spokesman Waldemar Zurek said Tuesday.
“The worst thing is that all these laws change the constitution without the required constitutional majority – it’s scary,” he added.
The centrist opposition has refused to present its own candidates for the KRS and to participate in the vote which, according to it, submits this judicial institution to political power.
The PiS “creates a political KRS in order to have a unique apparatus of state power”, breaking with the concept of separation of powers in a democratic state, said Borys Budka, former Minister of Justice, Platform Party MP civic (PO), during a debate in parliament.
National judges’ organizations have called on their members not to apply for the new KRS.
The vast changes in the judicial system affecting the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, the National Council of the Judiciary and the ordinary courts have plunged Poland into a deep political crisis. Warsaw is accused by Brussels of non-respect of the rule of law.
On 20 December, after months of warnings, the European Commission began an unprecedented procedure against Poland, which could in theory result in Warsaw being deprived of its voting rights in the EU if it does not reverse the controversial reforms.