Poland questions independence of Irish judiciary

Warsaw casts doubt on State’s system for appointing judges amid extradition row

Poland has cast doubt on State’s system for appointing judges amid extradition row

Poland has cast doubt on State’s system for appointing judges amid extradition row

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Poland has questioned whether Ireland’s judicial appointments system conforms with “rule of law” requirements in EU member countries and accused the Irish High Court of assuming it is a “lawless state”.

The High Court postponed the extradition of a suspected drugs trafficker to Poland in March and sought a ruling from the European courts on the status of the rule of law in the Baltic State.

Poland’s overhaul of its judiciary along with other sweeping “reforms” of its courts introduced by a right-wing government over the past two years have put it at odds with the European Union.

In a landmark decision, Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly postponed the proposed surrender of the Polish national over concerns he could not get a fair trial in his native country. He was arrested in Ireland on foot of a European arrest warrant last May and is currently in custody in Dublin.

Referring the case for a ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in March, Ms Justice Donnelly said legislative changes in Poland in the past two years were “so immense” that the High Court was forced to conclude that the rule of law in Poland has been “systematically damaged” and “democracy in Poland” has been breached. She asked the CJEU to determine whether mutual trust, an essential component in international extradition, continues to apply between Poland and other member states.

Right-wing Polish media outlets attacked Ms Justice Donnelly personally, following the decision, prompting sharp rebukes from judges in Ireland and across Europe, including senior Polish judges (defending Ms Justice Donnelly) themselves.

Now, in submissions to the CJEU, ahead of a hearing today, lawyers for Poland say the country “fundamentally disagrees with the Irish court’s approach . . . [because] that approach is based on a series of incorrect premises.”

The submissions continue: “It is with great regret that Poland takes note of the position of the Irish court, which in a general and far from balanced manner calls into question the existence of the very grounds on which mutual trust between member states is based.

“The Irish court has not considered, and is entirely unable to demonstrate, specific risks to the accused in the event of his being surrendered to Poland. This is because that court relies on the assumption – an assumption which it expects the CJEU to confirm – that Poland is a lawless state which should be excluded from judicial co-operation in criminal matters. However, that assumption is very far removed from the reality.”

In their submissions, lawyers for Poland make observations on whether it is permissible for national courts to conduct “diffuse reviews” and “complex assessments” of the rule of law in other member states. Allowing national courts to determine breaches of the rule of law in other member states would “destroy mutual trust between the member states forever”, they argue.

For example, they state: “It would not be possible to rule out that the Polish courts might also regard Ireland as a State which fails to meet the requirements of the rule of law and consequently refuse to apply the EAW mechanism in its relations with that State. They might, for example, take the view that the way in which judges are appointed in Ireland [by the President, acting on a proposal from the Government] in no way guarantees their independence and makes them dependent on the executive authority.”

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