EOnly a few weeks ago, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) sentenced Poland to a daily fine of one million euros until the controversial disciplinary body was suspended. It was another high point in the dispute over the rule of law in Poland. The next judgment from Luxembourg followed on Tuesday. The judges of the ECJ ruled that the powers of the Polish Minister of Justice, who is also the Public Prosecutor General, go too far. Its power to delegate judges to criminal courts of higher instance violates European law.
The District Court of Warsaw had previously turned to the ECJ and asked for an interpretation of the Polish regulation. The Warsaw judges complained that the criteria for the secondments were not officially known. The decisions are also not subject to judicial control. Incidentally, the Minister of Justice could also terminate the secondment at any time and without justification. There are no pre-determined criteria for this either. The ECJ has now confirmed all of these doubts.
The Luxembourg judges again emphasized the importance of an independent judiciary. Under no circumstances should the seconding of a judge become an instrument of political control. The judges also pointed out the dangers associated with the fact that the Minister of Justice in Poland is also the prosecutor general. Thanks to the dual role, the minister can exert influence both through the public prosecutor’s office and through the delegation of judges.
Warsaw reacted as usual. “Today’s ECJ ruling is another attempt to destabilize the judicial system in Poland,” tweeted Poland’s Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta. The negotiated regulation exists in many other countries; it was also not part of the reforms implemented by the national-conservative ruling party PiS since 2015. In Luxembourg, the Polish government had again argued that the organization of the judiciary was a matter for the Member States. In fact, it is an area that is not subject to harmonized European law. From the EU’s point of view, however, this cannot be left at this point. The Luxembourg judges referred, for example, to Article 19 of the Treaty on European Union, which states: “The Member States shall create the necessary legal remedies to ensure effective legal protection in the areas covered by Union law.” Such legal protection presupposes an independent judiciary .
In essence, it has long been a question of the primacy of European law, not just with Poland, that is, a basic requirement for the union of states. The dispute over the last word is also coming to a head with Hungary, especially in the area of asylum law. The ECJ also decided on Tuesday.