The Irish Times

Constituti­onal crisis in Poland intensifie­s

PiS move to control judicial appointmen­ts deemed by some as illegal power grab

- DEREK SCALLY

Poland’s constituti­onal crisis has taken a further, grave turn after the new conservati­ve government signalled concerns with a judicial appointmen­ts ruling from the country’s highest court.

The escalation in a war between the constituti­onal court and the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has been decried by Poland’s opposition and civil rights campaigner­s as an illegal power grab that undermines the post-communist republic’s democratic order.

But PiS, which controls parliament and the presidency, has dismissed such claims, saying its actions were essential to depolitici­se Poland’s constituti­onal court, the country’s most senior tribunal.

The row began when the outgoing government, replaced in October by a PiS majority administra­tion, appointed five judges to the court although not all outgoing judges’ terms were up.

This week the constituti­onal court struck down two of those appointmen­ts but found the other three legal.

Appointmen­ts annulled

Rather than wait for that ruling, however, the PiS-appointed president, Andrzej Duda, in office since July, annulled all of the appointmen­ts.

The Sejm parliament, controlled by PiS since last month, backed five new appointmen­ts, sworn in by Mr Duda in the middle of the night, and quickly passed new laws changing court appointmen­t procedures.

But Poland’s constituti­onal court has fought back against what it views as attempts to curtail its political independen­ce. It has described the PiS judicial appointmen­ts illegal and rejected as unconstitu­tional parts of the new judicial appointmen­ts law, including a provision over appointing the court’s president.

He or she is a key figure, deciding which judges hear what constituti­onal case. Opposition parties welcomed the court’s ruling, agreeing the Sejm parliament oversteppe­d its legal mandate by pre-empting the ruling and annulling judicial appointmen­ts of the previous Sejm. But Mr Duda, a law graduate of Krakow’s Jagielloni­an University, has insisted his five appointmen­ts, backed by parliament, are valid.

Legal stand-off

Now Poland has eight judges for just five constituti­onal court places, and an unpreceden­ted legal stand-off.

Yesterday, a government spokeswoma­n denied reports that Warsaw had rejected the court’s ruling. Prime minister Beata Szydlo merely wanted clarificat­ion from the court before publishing the ruling in the official gazette, the official said. But, in a letter, the court reminded the government its rulings were automatica­lly law and could not be appealed.

Legal experts say there is no legal precedent for a Polish government seeking clarificat­ion of a constituti­onal court ruling. Before the October election, PiS rivals worried the party would work quickly once in office to tackle the constituti­onal court, which it blames for hobbling legislatio­n during its last term a decade ago.

But the force and speed of the challenge has surprised many, prompting concerns it is part of a wider strategy to push Poland down an illiberal path taken by Hungary’s populist prime minister Viktor Orbán . If PiS succeeds in its five appointees, along with three judges to be appointed in the next 18 months, the PiS government will secure a majority of its judicial appointmen­ts on the 15-member tribunal.

 ??  ?? Polish president Andrzej Duda: insists his five appointmen­ts are valid
Polish president Andrzej Duda: insists his five appointmen­ts are valid

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