PiS nears complete party control over Polish judiciary

PiS nears complete party control over Polish judiciary
With PiS riding high in the polls, and Poles generally unimpressed by the judiciary's performance, popular protests at the laws are thought unlikely.
By Wojciech Kosc in Warsaw July 13, 2017

Poland’s ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) moved closer to complete control over the selection of the country’s judiciary on July 12 after voting through a bill that places a body key to the process of nominating judges under parliament’s authority.

Meanwhile, a draft bill instituting government control over the supreme court, which rules on issues including the validity of elections, was introduced to parliament on the same day.

PiS has changed the law in regard to the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS) in a way that means the majority of its members will be voted for by the parliament, where PiS has an outright majority. KRS’s most important competence is presenting court judge candidates for the president to nominate, following prior review.

The current members of the KRS are judges who have mostly been selected by other judges. That is, according to Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, a sign of corporatism having gone too far for too long in the judiciary. The changed law ultimately gives PiS control over who can become a judge serving the Polish courts.

“We want to end corporatism and introduce the oxygen of democracy [in the judiciary]," Ziobro said in parliament ahead of the vote. 

The opposition predictably responded with claims that the changes are unconstitutional and effectively end the separation of powers in Poland. However, outnumbered in parliament, the opposition MPs could not stop the vote passing.

The rallying of large popular protests on the issue seems out of the question. Many people in Poland consider the judiciary an elite caste remote from the problems of rank and file Poles. Low opinions of the courts’ efficiency are also typical among the general public because of problems such as the overly long duration of cases.

Over 2015 and 2016, PiS engineered the law on the Constitutional Tribunal (TK) to ensure it does not block new legislation. That has put Poland at odds with the European Union, which is probing whether the new TK regulations violate the EU’s founding principle of the rule of law. 

Meanwhile, a draft bill recalling the judges of the Supreme Court was introduced in parliament on July 12. If passed, the bill will end the term of all current supreme court judges, leaving the nominations for the new line-up in the hands of the justice minister. 

It appears unlikely that PiS's attempt at ending the independence of the judiciary will harm the party. It is consistently polling at least 10pp above the biggest opposition party, the centre right Civic Platform (PO).