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Brussels takes next step in rule of law action against Poland

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Brussels takes next step in rule of law action against Poland

Poland court - Image by Adrian Grycuk

(BRUSSELS) - The European Commission sent an additional reasoned opinion to Poland on Wednesday as it steps up its legal action to safeguard the independence of the judiciary in Poland.

The EU executive had on 3 December 2020 sent Poland an additional letter of formal notice, adding a new grievance to the infringement procedure started on 29 April. Taking note of Poland's reply to letter, the Commission says this has failed to address EU concerns.

For this reason, the Commission says it has now decided to move forward to the next step in the infringement procedure by sending an additional reasoned opinion to Poland.

The Commission considers that Poland violates EU law by allowing the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court – the independence and impartiality of which is not guaranteed – to take decisions, which have a direct impact on judges and the way they exercise their function.

These matters include cases of the lifting of immunity of judges with a view to bringing criminal proceedings against them, and the consequent temporary suspension from office and the reduction of their salary.

The Disciplinary Chamber is also deciding on matters related to labour law, social security and the retirement of Supreme Court judges.

By giving the Disciplinary Chamber powers that directly affect the status of judges and the exercise of their judicial activities, the Commission says Polish legislation jeopardises the ability of the respective courts to provide an effective remedy, as required by the second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU. The mere prospect for judges of having to face proceedings before a body whose independence is not guaranteed creates a 'chilling effect' for judges and can affect their own independence.

Poland is given one month to reply to this additional reasoned opinion and to take the necessary measures to comply with EU law, otherwise the Commission may refer the case to the Court of Justice.

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