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Polish judge critical of government reforms should be allowed to work, says court

FILE PHOTO: Judge Igor Tuleya stands in front of the National Public Prosecutor's Office in Warsaw, Poland January 20, 2021. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo

WARSAW (Reuters) - A Polish judge fiercely critical of the government’s judicial reforms is immune from prosecution and can work, an appeal court said, contradicting a Supreme Court disciplinary chamber ruling in a sign of divisions in the legal system.

The removal of judge Igor Tuleya’s immunity from prosecution in November by the disciplinary chamber highlighted a rift over the rule of law between the Polish government and critics including the European Union and many judges, who say the chamber is not independent and do not accept its authority.

“Igor Tuleya is without interruption a judge of a common court of the Republic of Poland, with the immunity assigned to this office and the right to adjudication,” an excerpt of the justification of a ruling cited by state-run news agency PAP read.

Critics see the reforms of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party as a means to increase political control over the courts, but the government says they are necessary to improve efficiency and remove residual Communist influence.

Tuleya is facing disciplinary proceedings over allowing media access to a 2017 court hearing at which he ruled on a sensitive case regarding the lawfulness of a parliamentary vote on the budget at which opposition politicians were not present.

“It is certainly satisfying that the appeal court in Warsaw shared the view that the disciplinary chamber is not a court, that these are not judges,” Tuleya told Reuters.

Tuleya has been accused by the government of putting himself above the law.

“The only binding and final ruling on Mr Tuleya’s case is the one held by the disciplinary chamber of Supreme Court,” Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta said.

“The Court of Appeal has no authority to withdraw a ruling of the Supreme Court. This is another example of how some judges in Poland refuse to comply with the Polish constitutional system in their own interests.”

Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Alan Charlish; Editing by Gareth Jones