Hand-picking judges threatens Polish constitution

21 July 2017

The Polish Government will soon have the power to hand-pick its own judges, giving the ruling party a level of influence and control over the judiciary that will stack the odds in its favour and echo eerily of a more turbulent European past, the Chair of the Bar has warned.

Andrew Langdon QC, Chair of the Bar of England and Wales, said:

"I have written to the President of Poland, His Excellency Andrzej Duda, calling on him to exercise his power of veto over new legislation that will undermine the independence of the Polish judiciary.

"It is for good reason that strong, democratic nation states no longer allow their ruling parties directly to influence the selection of judges. One of the judiciary's most important functions in any country is to hold Government to account and to uphold the rights of its citizens. When the judiciary is beholden to the ruling party of Government, there is no longer a separation of powers, and the democratic system of checks and balances on which the rule of law is based, fails.

 "Judges must be independent. History tells us that justice is not done well when it is influenced by political turbulence and populism."

The recent Acts of the Polish Parliament introduce unwarranted supervision and authority over the judiciary by the executive. Judicial presidents of courts are to be chosen by and will report directly to a Government minister and the majority of the National Council of the Judiciary will be chosen by the ruling party.

Chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales Kirsty Brimelow QC said:

"For a democracy to survive and flourish, a robust rule of law and an independent judiciary are essential. The mechanism for the appointment of the judiciary is crucial. The selection must be without bias or the appearance of bias. Thereafter the judges must be able to and be allowed to work independently in a position with security of tenure. Independent judicial appointment and independent judicial functioning enables due process as well as people's confidence in due process.  Poland must heed the informed opposition to its proposed new legislation and step off the path it has embarked upon."

Andrew Langdon QC said: "We stand shoulder to shoulder with our colleagues at the Polish Bar who are fighting, as all self-respecting lawyers should, to defend the rule of law, the constitution and the rights and freedoms of Polish citizens."

The Chair of the Bar's letter to the President of Poland is available here.

Notes to Editors 

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