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Poland reforms are part of plan that severely undermines independence of judiciary, says UN Special Rapporteur

GENEVA (22 December 2017) – The adoption of two laws in Poland threatens the independence of the judiciary, a UN human rights expert has warned.

“I regret that the Polish President signed into law on 20 December two bills that place two key judicial institutions – the Supreme Court and the National Council of the Judiciary – under the control of the executive and legislative branches,” said Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.

“These new laws are part of a larger plan aimed at placing the judiciary under the political control of the ruling party,” he added.

Since the parliamentary elections of 2015, the Polish authorities have engaged in a comprehensive reform of the judicial system, aimed at increasing its effectiveness and restoring public trust in the judicial institutions.

“At the end of my mission to Poland in October, I acknowledged that the reform and modernization of judicial institutions were a legitimate objective for any Government to pursue,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“What is happening in Poland today, however, is a vicious attempt to place the whole judicial system under the control of the executive and legislative branches.”

The Act concerning the Supreme Court contains several provisions that threaten judicial independence and the separation of powers, the expert said.

It lowers the retirement age of judges so as to dismiss them arbitrarily in flagrant breach of the principle of non-removability of judges, gives the Polish president discretionary powers to prolong judges’ mandates, and introduces a system of “extraordinary appeal” jurisdiction to review any final decision adopted by Polish courts on the basis of broad and vague criteria.

The Act on National Council of the Judiciary, meanwhile, allows the early removal of all 15 current judicial members, and gives the lower house of parliament the authority to select members.

“I welcome the European Commission’s decision to initiate its procedure under article 7(1) of the Treaty on the European Union to determine the existence of a serious breach of the rule of law in Poland,” said the Special Rapporteur.

“The independence of the judiciary, as enshrined in the Polish constitution and international human rights instruments, must be guaranteed by the State.”

The UN Special Rapporteur has been in contact with the Government of Poland regarding his concerns.

ENDS

Mr. Diego García-Sayán (Peru) has been Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers since December 2016.  As a Special Rapporteur, Mr. García-Sayán is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Councils independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page: Poland

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Dragana Korljan (+41 22 917 9721 / dkorljan@ohchr.org)

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