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Poland: government accused of lack of transparency over ‘blank’ judges’ list

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Poland: government accused of lack of transparency over ‘blank’ judges’ list

A protest against judicial reforms in Poland, Cracow, November 24, 2017
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Reuters
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More questions have been raised over judicial independence in Poland after the government refused to provide information relating to the body responsible for nominating judges.

A think tank asked the Justice Ministry for the names of judges who backed candidates elected onto the National Council of the Judiciary (NCJ). It received a list – but all the names had been wiped out.

The Civil Development Forum (FOR Foundation), which is based in Poland and promotes the rule of law, says it intends to take the ministry to court in the name of transparency.

The ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) has made judicial reform a key goal, aiming to give politicians greater control over the body that appoints judges. Government supporters argue that the changes are needed to complete the overhaul of a system which still bears hallmarks of the Communist era.

This week has brought signs of a partial climbdown from the right wing government, locked in a two-year battle with the European Union which has been concerned over judicial independence. On Thursday the lower house of parliament, the Sejm, approved amendments – one of which would remove the justice minister’s ability to fire judges without consultation.

After the Senate, the amendments still need to be approved by President Duda.

Earlier, the Commission hinted that a deal could be reached which would remove its threat to punish Poland with sanctions. Other EU countries have been considering linking the flow of EU funds to Poland to its adherence to the rule of law.

Frans Timmermans, Commission Vice-President, visited Warsaw to meet Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki amid indications that both sides were seeking a resolution to the dispute. The leader of Law and Justice, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said recently there was an “80 percent” chance of success.

However, Polish judges remain suspicious. The head of the country’s Supreme Court Malgorzata Gersdorf dismissed the concessions as “illusory”.

The FOR Foundation says that despite the election of 15 new judges to the NCJ, the public still has no idea who backed them or whether they meet the necessary qualifications. It claims only two people do know – and both are members of the ruling party.

Patryk Wachowiec, a legal analyst with the FOR Foundation, explained to Euronews that the law had been changed to restrict information.

"We received no explanation from the Minister of Justice. The names were just blanked out. The marshall of the Sejm said that information about these judges may violate their right to privacy. Since a judge holds a public office, we do not accept such justification," Wachowiec said. "Since the Law and Justice Party won the elections in 2015, the level of transparency has significantly declined."