The legal profession worldwide

Highlighting Justice System Legislative Reforms

On July 15, 2017, despite the opposition of the Polish legal community and civil society, two new laws reorganising the judiciary in Poland were adopted by Parliament.

The first law concerned the reform of the National Judicial Council and increased Parliament's influence on the judiciary, including that 15 of the 25 Council members – previously appointed by judicial assemblies – be appointed by the Lower House of Parliament (Sejm).

The second law concerned the reorganization of ordinary courts, giving the Minister of Justice – who is also the Attorney General of Poland – the power to appoint and dismiss presidents and vice-presidents of ordinary courts.

In addition, on July 22, a new law for the reform of the Supreme Court was adopted by Parliament. By virtue of this law, all Supreme Court members were forced to retire, with the exception of those indicated by the Minister of Justice. New judges would therefore be appointed.

Solicited by the Polish Bar Council on July 19, 2017, the UIA sent a letter to the Polish authorities expressing its firm opposition to these reforms, due to the negative impact their adoption would have on the independence of the judiciary and the principle of the separation of powers, requesting that these bills be rejected (see below).

Faced with the mobilisation of Polish society and harsh criticism from the international community, on July 24, 2017, the Polish President Andrzej Duda decided to veto the Supreme Court and National Judicial Council reform bills. However, he stated that he intended to submit his own draft amendments as regards these bills.

Moreover, the President signed the bill on ordinary courts into law, which came into force on August 11, 2017.

In response to this situation, the UIA sent another letter to the Polish authorities, signed jointly with the International Union of Judges, demanding that the law pertaining to the organisation of ordinary courts be withdrawn and that any reform of the justice system be undertaken in consultation with the parties concerned, ensuring that international standards for the independence of the judiciary are respected.