Polish judge, government critic refuses to be questioned by prosecutors

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WARSAW (Reuters) - A Polish judge critical of the ruling nationalists’ judiciary reforms refused to appear for questioning at a prosecutor’s office on Wednesday, the latest twist in a case that has come to symbolise the conflict between the government and some judges.

Poland has been embroiled in a long-running dispute with the European Union over the rule of law, and the removal of Judge Igor Tuleya’s immunity from prosecution in November by a disciplinary chamber the bloc says is not independent underlined the rift.

He 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 criticised for not having opposition politicians present.

“I cannot appear voluntarily for questioning because I would be contradicting my own words,” Tuleya told cheering supporters, some holding banners with slogans such as “Freedom for Polish judges”.

“The accusation is completely false... if I went into the prosecutor’s office I would be assessing the actions of the so-called disciplinary chamber as lawful, but they aren’t,” he added.

Cabinet minister Michal Wojcik, who formerly served as deputy justice minister, criticised Tuleya’s refusal to appear before the prosecutor.

“This shows that Judge Tuleya puts himself above society,” he told Reuters by text message. “It’s a kind of caste thinking that some people aren’t bound by the law.”

Tuleya is a well known opponent of judicial reforms carried out by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which critics say aim to increase political control over the courts.

PiS says the reforms are necessary to improve the efficiency of the judiciary and remove a residue of communist influence from the system.

Reporting by Alicja Ptak and Kacper Pempel; Writing by Alan Charlish and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Alex Richardson