Polish judge critical of government to return to work after 2 years

WARSAW, Nov 29 (Reuters) - A Polish judge fiercely critical of the nationalist government’s judicial reforms was reinstated in his job on Tuesday by a new disciplinary body after being suspended for two years.

Changes to the Polish judiciary have led Brussels to withhold some European Union funds for Poland. It says Warsaw must fulfil milestones related to judicial independence, reinstate unlawfully dismissed judges and reform its disciplinary system before funds can start flowing.

Judge Igor Tuleya has become a symbol of lawyers’ resistance to the changes introduced by the ruling Law and Justice party since 2015. The government said the changes were needed to improve courts’ efficiency and remove vestiges of the communist era from the judiciary.

Faced with daily fines of one million euros from the EU, the government later rowed back from some of its changes, replacing a disciplinary body for judges that the EU deemed too politicised with a new chamber.

It was this chamber, known as the Professional Liability Chamber of the Supreme Court, that ruled in favour of reinstating Tuleya.

Tuleya had fallen foul of the authorities in 2017 for allowing media access to a 2017 court hearing where he ruled on a case regarding the lawfulness of a parliamentary vote on the budget when opposition politicians were not present.

“The judge... acted within the limits and under the law,” judge Malgorzata Wasek-Wiaderek ruled on Tuesday.

Since there is no suspicion of a crime, “there are no grounds for the judge not to adjudicate,” she added.

Tuleya told Reuters he was “pleasantly surprised” by the court’s ruling and hoped to be back at work on Wednesday.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he would not comment on the decision of an independent court when asked if Tuleya’s reinstatement could have an influence on negotiations with Brussels over EU recovery funds.

Polish Judges’ Association Iustitia said that while it welcomed the court’s decision in his case, “it does not mean that Poland has removed all the defective elements in its court system”, referring in particular to illegally appointed judges.

Several judges critical of the government have been reinstated this year after being suspended, including Pawel Juszczyszyn who recently won a case against Poland at the European Court of Human Rights. (Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Gareth Jones)