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POLAND: Senate Rejects Judiciary Reform

On Friday, the Senate majority rejected the draft bill which seeks to counter the effects of the ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union and Poland’s Supreme Court (please see the 06.12 CEC Daily). The primary aim of the draft law is to extend the disciplinary liability of judges to prevent courts at all levels from ruling on political matters and undermining other constitutional entities. The decision of the Senate did not come as a surprise. The opposition parties, which form the Senate majority, have openly opposed the proposed changes and argued their unconstitutionality. Furthermore, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission published a negative opinion on the legality of the provisions. The Venice Commission argued that the proposed law would further weaken the independence of the Polish judiciary and recommended the Senate reject the draft bill.

While the Senate has delayed the introduction of the new law, it has no powers to stop it. The draft bill will now return to the Sejm, where it will most likely be adopted again. This time, however, the legislative process will send the bill directly for signing to the President. The European Commission has already applied to the Court of Justice of the European Union to introduce interim measures regarding the disputed Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court. Additionally, the introduction of the contested law may fuel the ongoing rule of law dispute with the European Union. Last week, the European Parliament adopted a resolution criticising changes made to the judiciary systems in Poland and Hungary. Furthermore, MEPs voted in favour of creating a mechanism which would make the payout of EU funds dependable on rule of law standards.

After a thaw in relations between Brussels and Warsaw, it now appears that the standoff regarding judiciary matters will yet again shape the political discussion of the coming months. While President Duda has a healthy lead in early presidential election polls, the issue of judiciary reforms may become a burden in the election campaign. This may, however, motivate the ruling bloc to make certain concessions and avoid an escalation.