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Rights court points to 'systemic dysfunction' in Polish judges' appointments

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By Reuters

WARSAW -The European Court of Human Rights pointed on Thursday to a “systemic dysfunction in judicial appointments procedure in Poland”, ruling that a company had been denied its right to a proper hearing due to how judges were appointed.

Since coming to power in 2015, Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party has introduced a series of judiciary reforms that critics, including the European Union’s executive, say may harm the independence of the courts.

“The Court found that the procedure for appointing judges to the Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court had been unduly influenced by the legislative and executive powers,” it said in a statement.

“The Civil Chamber was not therefore an ‘independent and impartial tribunal established by law’ within the meaning of the European Convention (on Human Rights).”

Polish Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta said that the ECHR was applying double standards towards “old” and “new” democracies.

“It is treating Poland like a colony, so this ruling is meaningless,” he wrote on Twitter.

ECHR rulings are binding on members of the Council of Europe, an organisation separate from the EU, but some remain outstanding for years.

Europe’s top human rights court had earlier ruled that Polish applicants had been denied their right to a fair hearing due to the illegal appointment of a Constitutional Court judge and judges to new chambers of the Supreme Court created under PiS.

The current ruling concerns Advance Pharma, a company selling a dietary supplement whose product was withdrawn from the market and who brought an unsuccessful claim for damages against the state.

It argued the Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court, which dismissed its last resort appeal, was not an independent and impartial tribunal.

The ECHR agreed and ordered Poland to pay the company 15,000 euros in non-pecuniary damage and 3,000 euro in costs. Some lawyers warn the verdict could encourage others to question Supreme Court rulings involving newly appointed judges.

The case is one of 94 currently pending applications against Poland concerning various aspects of the reorganisation of its judicial system initiated in 2017, the court said.

Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled last year that the ECHR had no right to question the appointment of its judges and is now hearing a case on whether the Strasbourg court has the power to question other local judges’ legitimacy.