State Dept. Urged to Press Poland on Judicial Reform Law
Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today urged the State Department to pressure Polish President Andrzej Duda to veto newly-passed legislation that would threaten judicial independence and undermine democracy in the country. The call came in a letter to Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs A. Wess Mitchell following last week’s passage by the Polish Sejm of two bills that would bring Poland’s judiciary under the control of parliament and the President. The previous version of the law was vetoed by President Duda in July.
“Proposals that threaten the rule of law and constitutionalism in Poland have begun to harm the functioning of what have long been considered models of newly-transitioned democratic institutions; these include an independent judiciary, executive decision-making based on rule of law, and operation of a free and independent press and civil society sector,” wrote Human Rights First’s Melissa Hooper in today’s letter.
One of the bills passed last week is the Law on the Supreme Court, which would give the president power to create new rules and procedures concerning the Supreme Court. The bill would also force the early retirement of most of Poland’s Supreme Court judges by suddenly imposing a mandatory retirement age of 65, unless they are given special permission to remain by the president. It further establishes “lay judiciary” positions, making it easy for political supporters to gain appointment to judicial positions, even if not qualified. The other bill, the Law on the National Council of the Judiciary, would give parliamentary appointees power over judicial selection—a power formerly overseen by a body made up of judges themselves.
“The passage of this legislation will only speed the deterioration of democratic institutions in Poland,” added Hooper. “The U.S. government should make clear to Polish leaders that undermining democratic checks and balances threatens Poland’s reputation as a model democracy and runs counter to the norms and commitments concerning human rights and fundamental freedoms that underpin the North Atlantic Alliance.”