The European Commission launched a new formal procedure against reforms in Poland on Wednesday (29 April), giving Warsaw two months to alleviate concerns about a December law that the EU executive says threaten judicial independence.
The law, which overhauls the disciplinary scheme for judges, was adopted in December 2019 and entered into force in February.
It introduces disciplinary liability of judges, including for questioning the effectiveness of the appointment of a judge upon recommendation of the new National Court Register and for public activity, which, according to the authors of the amendment, is incompatible with the principles of independence of courts and judges.
The European Commission judged that these regulations prevent courts from directly applying certain EU law provisions protecting the independence of the judiciary.
The EU executive said the infringement procedure was “designed to safeguard the independence of judges in Poland” as the law which entered into force in February would punish judges who criticise the government’s reforms of the judicial system and pose “clear risks” of political control and influence over judicial decisions.
“Member states can reform their justice system, but they must do it without violating EU treaties. We have today launched an infringement procedure because there are strong legal bases for this,” the Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Vera Jourova, told reporters.
“There are clear risks that the provisions regarding the disciplinary regime against judges can be used for political control of the content of judicial decisions,” Jourova said.
“This is a European issue because Polish courts apply European law. Judges from other countries must trust that Polish judges act independently. This mutual trust is the foundation of our single market,” Jourova said.