Europe’s top court, the European Court of Justice, has ruled that Poland’s justice reform, particularly the way it disciplines judges, is “not compatible” with EU law.
The European Commission brought the case of the ECJ, claiming that Poland was undermining the rule of law. The Polish government claim reforms are needed to make courts more efficient and remove any trace of their communist past.
Poland created a “disciplinary chamber” that has the power to rule on Polish judges’ independence and lift their immunity so they can face criminal prosecution. The Polish government also said that these reforms are key in the fight against corruption.
In 2020, the ECJ ordered Poland to suspend the chamber as the EC claimed it was full of those loyal to the ruling PiS party. They suggested it was being used as an instrument to bully judges into complying with the party line.
But the ruling was repealed this week. The Court of Justice said the judicial amendments are likely in violation of EU law which is binding on the country. It said that the organization of the justice system “falls within the competence” of member states; they are “required to comply with their obligations deriving from EU law.”
The Polish government said the EU is interfering in their right to make its laws by challenging judicial reforms. These reforms are essential as the courts must function more effectively and without the residue of communists.
Also this week, Poland’s Constitutional Court ruled that the ECJ rulings are unconstitutional. It found that EU measures were not in line with the constitution and that demands to suspend the activity of the chambers were wrong.
Conversely in Albania, the EU has organised, funded, and overseen a judicial reform that saw the incorporation of several disciplinary bodies for the judicial system. These bodies review the independence, professionalism, and wealth of judges and prosecutors and have the power to dismiss them, suspend them, or send them back to school.
More than half of judges and judicial staff have been fired or quit, bringing the justice system to its knees. The High Court and Constitutional Court were defunct for several years, and there are severe backlogs in all courts, including up to a two-year wait for appeals. Furthermore, there is now a shortage of experienced and competent judges and concerns about the sustainability of the justice system in the future.
While the justice reform is widely considered to be a failure and does not enjoy confidence from Albanian people, the EU and US continue to publicly support it. Furthermore, they have regularly made public statements about how proceedings should take place, including specific cases for certain judges.
Furthermore, instead of removing communists from positions within the judiciary, a number have been put into new positions in new institutions, and then approved by the EU.
Vincent van Gerven Oei co-founder of Exit, academic, and in-depth investigator and reporter on the Albanian/EU justice reform said:
“If you want a functioning, independent judicial system, this precludes any form of political intervention. The EU does nothing BUT politically intervene in it, by means of its constant statements of ‘big fish’ etc.”
He added: “the EU actively undermines the depoliticized judiciary it claims to create. This is a catch 22 from which they cannot escape.”