Polish judges being targeted with ‘absurd’ disciplinary procedures

Concerns about ‘systemic’ violation of judiciary’s independence

Poznan district judge Monika Frackowiak: ‘I’m becoming a target when I’m just doing my job.’

Poznan district judge Monika Frackowiak: ‘I’m becoming a target when I’m just doing my job.’

 

Dozens of Polish judges are being “targeted” with “absurd” disciplinary proceedings by their government for defending the rule of law, a member of Poland’s largest association of judges has claimed.

Poznan district judge Monika Frackowiak said she was probably the Polish government’s “number one target”, along with former Krakow district judge Waldemar Zurek.

Both have suffered years of intimidation and harassment, according to a recent Amnesty International report on Polish judges standing up for their independence.

The ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has pursued an overhaul of the country’s judiciary since coming to power in 2015. Under one of the government’s reforms, which has put the country at odds with the European Union, judges in Poland can now be subjected to disciplinary proceedings and sanctioned if authorities deem their rulings inappropriate.

The issue of the Polish judiciary arose in a case in Ireland during which a Polish man was fighting his extradition to the country.

Artur Celmer’s lawyers had argued he faced a risk of an unfair trial because of “radical changes” to the Polish justice system.

High Court judge Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly referred the Celmer case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) due to concerns about the impact of “systemic” violations of the independence of the judiciary in Poland.

‘Disciplinary officers’

The European Commission has called on Poland to rectify attacks on the impartiality of the judiciary.

Ms Frackowiak, a member of the Iustitia Association of Polish Judges and a district judge since 2007, said she was one of about 30-40 Polish judges being “targeted” by shadowy “disciplinary officers” for ruling against the will of the government or for questioning its reforms.

Many more judges were often summonsed “to go to Warsaw for example and give testimony in the most absurd cases you can imagine”, she said. “The chilling effect is created, even if you are not charged with anything. It’s not comfortable to face the disciplinary officer because you know they are watching you.”

She said she was currently charged with four or five separate disciplinary proceedings, but was unsure of the number because she usually gets informed through pro-government media. She said the “absurd” charges involve accusations of delays in giving written judgments, taking sick leave or speaking to foreign journalists.

‘Insidious tactics’

Laurent Pech, professor of European law at Middlesex University London,said Polish authorities are trying new “insidious tactics to capture the whole judiciary, using a new disciplinary regime to bully and intimidate judges … especially those who refer questions” to the European courts.

Prof Pech said each judge in Poland now faced “the threat at any point in time of kangaroo disciplinary proceedings”.

The goal was to “send a chilling message to all Polish judges by retaliating against those who dare to involve” the European courts or those “not toeing the party line”, he said.

“As things stand today, Polish authorities’ sustained and systematic attacks on the rule of law now more than ever directly threaten the very functioning of the EU legal order,” Prof Pech recently wrote on the website verfassungsblog.de.

Ms Frackowiak said it was a difficult time for her earlier this year when a raft of new disciplinary proceedings were launched and she was the subject of a “hatred campaign” in pro-government media. However, she feels obliged to speak out about threats to the rule of law in Poland. “I will not stop,” she said. “It can’t have any impact on me. I just continue my work and that’s it. Again and again I’m becoming a target when I’m just doing my job.”