Poland's Court-Revamp Blitz Fuels Anxiety for Business GroupBy and
Ruling party seeks to increase government role in judiciary
EU has accused Poland of backsliding on democratic values
The Polish ruling party’s accelerated judicial overhaul, set to give politicians more sway in court matters, bypasses needed public consultations and undermines investor confidence, according to the country’s leading business lobby group.
Emboldened by rising public support following U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to Warsaw last week, Law & Justice’s latest legislative plans are poised to push Poland deeper into conflict with the European Union and have triggered opposition accusations that it’s building a “dictatorship.” The party’s previous changes to courts triggered an unprecedented probe by the bloc’s executive, which accused Poland of “persistent” rule-of-law breaches.
After the lower house of parliament on Wednesday approved giving lawmakers the right to choose who sits on the National Judiciary Council, a body that decides which judges are promoted and how courts are run, the ruling party proposed revamping the Supreme Court. The revamp, coming in a streamlined legislative procedure that omits public consultations, would give the government control over the panel that, among other things, approves election results.
“The way changes are being done certainly doesn’t help image of Poland in the eyes of future and existing investors,” Krzysztof Kajda, head of the legal department at employers’ group Lewiatan, told Bloomberg. “Stability and predictability of law is crucial for investment.”
Anti-government group Committee for the Defense of Democracy will hold a protest on Sunday in Warsaw to “stave off the coup d’etat.”
The standoff is isolating Poland, the biggest net recipient of EU funds, during a crucial time when the bloc is seeking changes following the U.K.’s decision to exit. Law & Justice argues its revamps strengthen public control over the judiciary, which it says is run by an unaccountable “caste of judges.”
The overhaul “neglects” consultations with citizens, lawyers and business groups on key legal issues dealing with the separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers, which is “essential for democracy,” according to Kajda.
European lawmaker Guy Verhofstadt called for an “urgent” discussion in parliament with the country’s justice minister, while Jerzy Stepien, a former chief justice of the Constitutional Court, said Poland was about to leave the realm of “western civilization” by replacing independent courts with those that serve political goals.
The Supreme Court overhaul envisages that all of the panel’s judges, except ones selected by the justice minister, will be forced to retire a day after the new rules come into force. The court is the highest appeals authority in Poland. On Wednesday, the assembly initially approved legislation that gives parliament the right to name judges to the judiciary council, which determines appointments to the nation’s 400 courts, shortens the panel’s term and gives the government control over appointing heads of courts.
“Should the draft be adopted as it stands, investors would be well advised to reconsider their business plans,” Laurent Pech, professor of European law and head of the law and politics department at the Middlesex University in London, told Bloomberg.