Top Court, Cities Revolt Against Polish Cabinet in Democracy Row

  • Pressure grows on government to resolve rule-of-law crisis
  • Ruling party lawmaker says new rules will `end this anarchy'

Poland’s Supreme Court and several municipalities are revolting against the country’s government in a standoff over democratic norms, piling pressure on the ruling Law & Justice party to back down or face a growing legal quagmire.

Prime Minister Beata Szydlo has refused to publish a March 9 ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal saying that Law & Justice’s revamp of the court was illegal, calling it an “opinion” made by an incomplete set of justices and blocking it from taking effect. The Supreme Court, which oversees the justice system, on Tuesday said it would abide by all rulings made by Constitutional Tribunal justices, whether published or not, joining city magistrates in Warsaw and Lodz who ordered municipal authorities to do the same.

Various interpretations by the courts and the government on which laws are binding may stoke chaos throughout the legal system. The government fell out with European Union partners and the U.S. after passing legislation to consolidate power, including new rules for the Constitutional Tribunal. Casting aside international and domestic criticism, Law & Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski last week called on the government to accelerate changes or risk dismissal.

“Nothing’s better for respecting the law than judges speaking in one voice,” Borys Budka, a lawmaker from the opposition Civic Platform and former justice minister, said on Tuesday about the Supreme Court’s announcement. “There’s no consent for breaching the constitution and using legal reform as a pretext.”

Beata Mazurek, a spokeswoman for Law & Justice, criticized the Supreme Court as “a bunch of cronies defending the status quo.” She told reporters in parliament that the ruling party will revise the law on the Constitutional Tribunal to “end this anarchy.” She didn’t provide any details.

The European Parliament said in a non-binding resolution this month that democracy in Poland is imperiled by the constitutional standoff, highlighting alarm across Europe over Law & Justice’s push for greater state control. The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, started a probe in January of the Polish government’s democratic behavior, the first in the bloc’s history.

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