„Duda’s second term – there will be more changes in the courts” by Krzysztof Sobczak, prawo.pl

Duda’s second term – there will be more changes in the courts

Krzysztof Sobczak, prawo.pl , 13 July 2020

Although both participants of the second round of the presidential elections avoided topics related to the rule of law in the campaign, Andrzej Duda’s victory undoubtedly means the preparation for further changes in the justice administration. It arises from the statements of the politicians of the ruling camp that the so-called flattening of the structure of the judiciary and the restriction of the privileges of judges, including immunity, will be first in the line of fire.

Jarosław Kaczyński, president of the Law and Justice party, mentioned this as the second direction of changes just before the second round of the presidential elections. “The courts are the most important bastion of the old system; the change in the nature of the courts is a condition for Poland to be able to solve other problems, develop well and, primarily, to be just,” he said. According to the leader of the United Right coalition, “it was the People’s Republic of Poland that created the protection for the judges, formed an institution by which they became a group that is not formed from outside, but through co-opting, with some involvement of the president or the executive.”

According to Kaczyński, “a change in this situation, a change in the nature of these courts is a condition for Poland to be able to solve other problems, develop well and, primarily, to be just.”

Reform, namely flattening the structure of the courts

Meanwhile, immediately after the announcement of the preliminary results of the election, Zbigniew Ziobro, the minister of justice, stated that the priorities for President Andrzej Duda’s second term of office will probably include the reform of state institutions. And he added that judicial reform is coming to the forefront. He emphasised that the government will probably want to continue its current policy.

When speaking about the ‘reform of state institutions’, Zbigniew Ziobro pointed out that the completion of the reform of the judiciary, but also other state bodies, is moving to the forefront, ‘to make them more professional, faster’. Here, we need a consensus and – in this extremely difficult moment in which we are – to finish what we have started,” he said. As the minister added, this includes ‘flattening’ the structure of the courts.

The minister made the reservation that he would be able to talk reliably about the details after the changes that he wishes to propose are agreed – both within the United Right and with the president. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice press office clarified that the quoted “statements of the minister of justice and prosecutor general, Zbigniew Ziobro, only apply to possible plans for the government after Andrzej Duda is re-elected, after they are agreed upon within the United Right, whereas in no way did they apply to the president, whose office independently specifies the plans and strategies.”

The MoJ Announces changes

Minister Ziobro and his colleagues from the management of the justice ministry have already presented the initial assumptions of these changes. Deputy Minister of Justice Marcin Warchoł spoke about the changes in the structure of the courts on 8 February of this year, namely during the convention of United Poland [Solidarna Polska], the group headed by Zbigniew Ziobro. “Today, we have an extensive, almost Byzantine judicial system – four levels,” he said. “That is why we are proposing a change by flattening the structure, liquidating this disturbed structure of the judiciary, introducing two instances, a uniform judicial position and easier routes for promotion of diligent and reliable judges, of whom we have a huge number,” said Warchoł. Likewise, Deputy Minister Anna Dalkowska confirmed that the Ministry of Justice is conducting conceptual, analytical, and legal/comparative work on the reform of the justice system. As she said, the objective of the work is to flatten three structures, the district, regional and appellate courts, into two organisational units reflecting two instances. However, she did not specify how the courts would look after the proposed change.

One judge for all courts

It arises from the announcements of the representatives of the Ministry of Justice that the position of judge would be unified, namely one position of an ordinary court judge would arise instead of judges of district, regional and appellate courts. As Minister Dalkowska said, the position of judge would only be differentiated by experience and the level of competence required for professional work. However, she did not explain on what principles judges would be appointed to work in the particular courts.

Change to verify judges?

The proposal to standardise the position of the judge has even encountered a certain amount of acceptance in the judicial community, but doubts were immediately raised as to the intention of preparing this change. Judicial associations also see it as the creation of conditions for verifying judges, because creating a uniform position of judge in connection with the liquidation of the existing courts and the creation of new ones would mean the need to give new ‘assignments’ to judges. And this gives rise to concerns that the judges supporting the government’s policy could be promoted, and those criticising it could be demoted.

“Under no circumstances is the objective of the reform to conduct any verification of the staff of judges. I can make the assurance that the justice system will be reformed in accordance with the principles arising from the Constitution of the Republic of Poland,” promised Minister Anna Dalkowska.

“I do not see a need to pin labels on judges. A judge is simply a judge, whereas assigning him to a particular court is a completely different matter. Only then will all the guarantees regarding judges, such as limiting their transferability, become even more important,” Professor Krystian Markiewicz, president of Iustitia told Prawo.pl in an interview. However, he added that the plan to abolish judicial degrees, ‘albeit containing certain rational elements’ would boil down to removing those who are uncomfortable.

“In my opinion, this is not about any reform or improvement, but about a purge. Such a fundamental change has never been conducted in Poland. I do not have a clear view of whether it is good or bad – the flattening of the structure. But if it has to happen, it has to be thought out, discussed with the judges, and not introduced despite the judges,” Judge Piotr Gąciarek from the Regional Court in Warsaw assessed in his statement to Prawo.pl.

Link to the original publication in Polish: