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POLAND: Constitutional Tribunal vs. Supreme Court

Sejm Speaker Elżbieta Witek requested the Constitutional Tribunal to settle a competency dispute between the Sejm and the Supreme Court. The Constitutional Tribunal will assess: whether the Supreme Court can alter the judiciary system or whether it is the sole competence of the parliament; and whether the Supreme Court can determine the validity of judicial appointments made by the President. As an interim measure, the Constitutional Tribunal announced the suspension of a joint hearing of three Supreme Court Chambers (scheduled for this Thursday) which was expected to settle the differences in rulings between particular chambers of the Court. The Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court recently ruled in contradiction to the previous sentence issued by the Supreme Court, which undermined the validity of the PiS-reformed National Council of the Judiciary, as well as the newly created Disciplinary Chamber itself.

Critics argue that the Constitutional Tribunal, which is likely to provide a ruling favourable to the PiS party, will create a legal alternative to the decision of the Supreme Court. At the same time, the ruling party hopes that the legal standoff will block further actions of the Supreme Court, which could undermine PiS’ judiciary reform. Still, it unlikely that the judges of the Supreme Court will suspend their activities. The Supreme Court’s spokesperson confirmed, however, that the planned hearing will still take place to discuss the ongoing situation. In the view of commentators, there is no apparent clash of competences between the Supreme Court and the parliament, and that the engagement of the Constitutional Tribunal in this dispute is, therefore, a political manoeuvre. Legal experts argue that the dispute between the Tribunal and the Supreme Court is creating a dangerous judiciary duality in Poland. This will create a situation where judges across the country will be able to either cite the Supreme Court or the Constitutional Tribunal in their rulings, depending on whether they support PiS’ reform.