Tech & Rights

Justice Paralyzed: Polish President Signs New Constitutional Tribunal Bill

President Andrzej Duda has signed the new bill on the Constitutional Tribunal despite appeals from legal specialists and NGOs.

by Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights
Kancelaria Prezydenta /
The new bill, passed on July 30, is the third amendment since November 2015, following the Law and Justice party's rise to power.

After the adoption of the bill by the Sejm (the lower house of Poland's Parliament), members of the Helsinki Committee in Poland and the board of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights issued a statement saying that the new bill is "a backslide against the separation of powers rule and it opens the path to a dictatorship of the ruling majority that is not bound with Constitution."

At the end of April 2016, several MPs from Law and Justice submitted to the Sejm a new bill on the Constitutional Tribunal. In June 2016, parliamentary consideration began on bills submitted by the ruling party, a bill offered by other MPs, and the proposal from civil society.

In the end, however, the Sejm worked only on the bill that was presented by the ruling majority.

Paralysis of the court

The new bill on the Constitutional Tribunal introduces several regulations that can lead to a paralysis of the court's functioning.

The most controversial provision is an article that introduces the so-called blocking mechanism: during a full bench debate, four judges may veto the ruling proposition, which would lead to a three-month adjournment. The veto may be repeated once more.

There are also regulations saying that in cases of ruling in full bench, the case must be adjourned if the properly informed prosecutor general is not present.

Questionable judges should start ruling

Under the bill, all judges that were chosen by the Sejm and sworn in by the president must immediately begin doing their duties. In practice, it means that the president of the Constitutional Tribunal is supposed to assign cases to those who were chosen as judges and sworn by President Duda in December 2015, to seats that were already occupied.

Changes in publishing verdicts

The system of publishing the verdicts changes as well. Now the decision about their publishing will be taken by the prime minister based on a request lodged by the president of the Constitutional Tribunal.

Moreover, under the law all rulings issued before July 20 are to be published, except for those that violate the new Tribunal law or concern the regulations that are repealed.

It means that the verdict of March 9, 2016, when the Tribunal ruled the amendment to the law on Constitutional Tribunal is unconstitutional, would still be not published.

Until now, it was the president of the Tribunal who ordered publishing of the rulings which was obligatory.

The HFHR’s opinions

At the level of legislative works, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights presented two legal opinions regarding the bill.

According to the HFHR, the new law is "another try at subjugating the Constitutional Tribunal to executive force. Simultaneously, the law introduces mechanisms that allow for blocking the Tribunal’s constitutional duties. Therefore the HFHR is appealing to the Polish Sejm to not adopt the law."
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