by ALEXANDRA TOMPSON
How has this crisis come about? In 2015, when the newly-elected Law and Justice Party blocked the installment of five judges to Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, it was accused of illegally replacing them with their own. At first sight this is true, but in reality it was the post communist liberal opposition who were initially responsible.
In June 2015, the centre-right Civic Platform Party, realizing that they were going to lose the 2015 election, plotted to maintain their influence in government by ensuring they had a majority on Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal. In blatant violation of the Constitution, the country’s judges – mostly Civic Platform Party appointees – helped the then-ruling party to create a new law enabling judges whose terms would come to an end after the election to line their replacements up in advance. This ploy ensured that no significant legislation put forward by the governing Law and Justice Party would ever see daylight.
One of the promises made by the Law and Justice Party was to overhaul Poland’s deeply flawed judiciary. Polish citizens and even foreign firms are not happy with what goes on in Polish courts. In 2017 the US State Department blamed a slow and over-burdened Polish court system for chasing away foreign firms, who preferred to resolve their disputes in third-country courts or by offshore arbitration.
They complained of unlimited case-shopping, cases that dragged on forever with judges free to pass cases along before completion. They also complained about the President of the Court abusing his power, these matters resulting in inefficiency, bribery and corruption.
The Law and Justice Party has changed all that. Cases must now be randomly assigned, and time limits set for the resolution of cases. Judges are required to complete cases they start, enabling plaintiffs timely access to justice. In addition, as a safeguard against bribery and corruption, judges are compelled to publicly disclose their personal finances.
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