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European court says two Polish judges' right to fair hearing was breached

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By Reuters
Two Polish judges' right to fair hearing was breached - European court
Two Polish judges' right to fair hearing was breached - European court   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021

WARSAW -Two Polish judges’ right to a fair hearing was violated after they had job applications blocked, Europe’s top human rights court said on Monday, in a ruling that questioned the independence of Poland’s judiciary.

The decision was the latest blow to Poland in an international row over the rule of law and judicial reforms which critics say limit the independence of Polish courts. Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party says reforms are needed to rid the judicial system of the residue of communism.

Monday’s ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) criticised Poland’s National Council of the Judiciary (NCJ), a public body responsible for nominating judges, and the procedure for their appointment.

Judges Monika Joanna Dolinska-Ficek and Artur Ozimek complained to the ECHR after they had applications for posts blocked in Poland, the largest former communist state in the EU.

They alleged that the NCJ and the Supreme Court’s Chamber of Extraordinary Review and Public Affairs, which heard their appeals, were not independent and impartial.

“The Court concludes that the Chamber of Extraordinary Review and Public Affairs of the Supreme Court, which examined the applicants’ cases, was not a ‘tribunal established by law’,” the ECHR ruling said.

Poland was ordered to pay the judges 15,000 euros ($17,000) each. The court also said in a statement that “in the interests of the rule of law … and the independence of the judiciary, a rapid remedial action on the part of the Polish State is required”.

Poland’s Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta criticised the verdict on Twitter.

“The ECHR has issued another verdict in which it questions the Polish NCJ under the bizarre principle that there are countries which are mature democracies and can have an extremely politicised procedure for choosing judges (Germany) and there are countries which need guardianship (Poland),” he wrote.

In October, Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro urged his government to take legal action against Germany over what he said was a politicised system of choosing judges in the bloc’s largest nation.

The European Court of Justice, the EU’s top court, told Poland last year to suspend its Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Chamber, saying it breached EU law. The court recently said Poland must pay 1 million euros a day for not dissolving the chamber.

Poland has said it will get rid of the Disciplinary Chamber, with the potential to replace it with a new body, but it has not presented detailed plans yet.

Separately, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled this year that elements of EU law were incompatible with the country’s constitution, challenging a central tenet of EU integration.

Ziobro also asked the Tribunal to rule on whether the article of the European Convention of Human Rights on the right to a fair hearing was constitutional as far as it allows the ECHR to verify the legality of the appointment of the Tribunal’s judges. A first hearing in the case has been set for Nov. 24.

($1 = 0.8655 euros)