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EU Court Issues Stinging Rebuke to Polish Justice

Ruling widens rift over Warsaw’s moves to increase control over a judiciary it claims is in dire need of a purge.

26 July 2018

The European Union’s highest legal arbiter has stepped in to the deepening dispute over the nationalist Polish government’s judicial policies.


In a ruling yesterday on a case brought by a Polish national living in Ireland, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) gave EU countries leeway to refuse to honor European arrest warrants issued by Poland, Deutsche Welle reports.


Less than a month ago, the European Commission opened proceedings against Poland designed to “protect the independence of the Polish Supreme Court,” after the nationalist ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) enacted laws forcing many court justices to retire.


The Commission will not have been pleased when, earlier this week, as Reuters reported, the Polish Senate opened the way for the government to name the next Supreme Court chief justice.


Since the PiS returned to power in 2015, dozens of judges from the country’s highest courts have been dismissed. The party says the cleanout is needed to overhaul an elitist judicial system that was never fully purged after the end of communism.


The ECJ ruling took up the case of a Polish man who was arrested in Ireland in May last year for suspected drug trafficking. He argued that if handed over to Polish authorities he would face “a real risk of not receiving a fair trial” because of the judicial reforms being enacted in the country, the ECJ said in a press release.


According to Politico, if Irish courts refuse to extradite the man, “they will in effect be deciding that Poland’s judiciary no [longer] functions as a normal part of the EU’s justice system.”


It is now up to Irish courts to decide if the man’s right to a fair trial would be breached if he were extradited to Poland. In that case, Irish or any other EU court “must refrain from giving effect” to the European arrest warrant,” the court said.



  • Chief justice Malgorzata Gersdorf has refused to step down, saying her mandate does not expire until 2020. A law that came into effect this month set an age limit of 65 on the justices, forcing two-fifths of the 72 justices to take mandatory retirement.


  • The Commission launched a so-called rule-of-law procedure against Poland in December. Potentially, Poland could be stripped of its voting rights if it is found to have breached the EU’s core values. However, such a step would require unanimous consent of all EU members, and fellow EU rebel Hungary has vowed to veto it.

Compiled by Tyler Haughn

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