December 20, 2017 / 3:04 PM / 5 months ago

Factbox: EU launches action against Poland over courts reform

WARSAW (Reuters) - Below are details of the European Commission’s decision to launch the Article 7 procedure against Poland on Wednesday over judicial reforms that Brussels says undermine Polish courts’ independence.

The procedure could lead to a suspension of Poland’s voting rights in the EU if approved by all over EU members except Poland. Hungary has said it would veto any sanctions on Poland.

JUSTIFICATION

First Vice President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, said at a news conference on Wednesday that thirteen laws passed in Poland over the last two years “put at serious risk the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers in Poland”.

“The common pattern of all these legislative changes is that the executive or legislative powers are now set up in such a way that the ruling majority can systematically, politically interfere with the composition, the powers, the administration and the functioning of these authorities, thereby rendering the independence of the judiciary completely moot,” Timmermans said.

He said that laws passed by Poland’s parliament mean that:

Almost 40 percent of current Supreme Court judges will be forced into compulsory retirement

Poland’s president will have discretionary power to decide if and for how long to prolong their mandates

New Supreme Court judges will be appointed by the president on the recommendation of the newly composed National Council for the Judiciary (NCJ), which is dominated by political appointees of the ruling party. This politicized Supreme Court will decide directly about the validity of election results

A number of judges in ordinary courts are forced to retire following a decrease of the retirement age of judges. Their mandates can be prolonged at the discretion of the Minister of the justice minister who is also the chief prosecutor

Justice minister has discretionary power to appoint and dismiss all presidents of courts – without concrete criteria, no obligation to state reasons and no judicial review

Mandates of members of NCJ will be prematurely terminated and members will be reappointed by Polish parliament instead of by other judges as required by European standards

NCJ plays key role throughout the career of judges when it comes to their appointments, their promotions, to where they are assigned to in the country and the courts, to disciplinary proceedings

EUROPEAN COMMISSION’S REQUESTS

Timmermans said on Wednesday the European Commission asks Poland to:

Restore the independence and legitimacy of the Constitutional Tribunal by ensuring that its judges, its President and its Vice-President are lawfully elected and appointed

Publish and implement fully the three 2016 verdicts of the Constitutional Tribunal

Amend the law on the Supreme Court so as to not apply a lowered retirement age to the current Supreme Court judges, and remove the discretionary powers of the President of Poland and remove the extraordinary appeal procedure

Amend the law on the ordinary courts so as to remove the new retirement regime for judges of ordinary courts

Amend the law on the National Council for the Judiciary so as to ensure that the mandate of members of the Council is not terminated and the members are elected by other judges

The Commission said that should the Polish authorities implement the recommended actions in the coming three months the Commission stands ready to reconsider its decision to move forward with the Article 7 procedure.

Compiled by Marcin Goettig; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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