ECHR: Poland violated right to lawful court with "stand-in" judge
Poland has violated the right to a lawful tribunal and a fair trial - the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Friday in Strasbourg. The ruling pertained to a case of a Polish turf roll producer who had sued the state for damages caused by game. The ECHR ruling was justified with the fact that judge Mariusz Muszyński had replaced a lawfully appointed Constitutional Tribunal judge in the panel which handed down the ruling, unfavourable to the businessman. Constitutional Court head Julia Przyłębska said the verdict would not have any impact on Poland's legal system.
Nine years ago, a turf rolls producer from Leszno Dolne (Lubuskie province) demanded the state compensate him for damages caused by wild boar and deer. Courts of all instances had passed unfavourable verdicts to the businessman, however one thread of the case was referred to the Constitutional Tribunal. The panel of judges examining the case included judge Mariusz Muszyński, a so-called stand-in judge, who had been chosen to the Tribunal to fill in one of the spots already filled by the Sejm earlier on.
The Tribunal panel with Muszyński on the bench rejected the businessman's claim and so his lawyers took the case to the European Court of Human Rights, complaining against the Polish court's composition.
"The European Court of Human Rights has made a ruling of extreme importance for Poland's situation. The ECHR has said that the presence of a 'stand-in' judge in a Constitutional Court panel had violated the right to a fair trial and the right to a tribunal established by law" - TVN24 reported Michał Tracz explained.
He added the verdict stood in a stark contrast to what Law and Justice party lawmakers had claimed, namely that it had been lawful to newly appoint some members of the Constitutional Tribunal.
"The Court found in particular that – despite the applicant company’s repeated raising of the matter – the domestic courts had not answered its arguments that the law applied in its case had been incompatible with the Constitution and, consequently, had failed in their duty under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention to provide reasoned decisions, denying the applicant company a fair trial" - reads a press statement issued by the ECHR.
Furthermore, the ECHR ruled that "the actions of the authorities in appointing one of the judges who had been on the bench in the applicant company’s case and the ignoring of the Constitutional Court’s judgments in that connection had meant that the panel that had tried the case had not been a 'tribunal established by law'".
The Court held that Poland was to pay the applicant company 3,418 euros (EUR) in respect of costs.
The ruling marked the latest in a series of clashes between European Union organisations and Warsaw over the EU member's approach to the rule of law since the Law and Justice party (PiS) came to power in 2015.
PiS has introduced a series of judiciary reforms that critics say may harm the independence of the courts and its legislators have elected three constitutional court judges to roles already filled by the previous parliament.
Constitutional Court head Julia Przyłębska said the verdict by Europe's top rights court was beyond its scope and would not have any impact on Poland's legal system.
"This is a gross violation of the law and has no basis whatsoever in acts of international law constructing the status of the tribunal in Strasbourg," she told news agency PAP.
According to the European Convention on Human Rights, "everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law".
ECHR rulings are binding on members of the Council of Europe like Poland, but some remain outstanding for years.
Źródło: TVN24 News in English, Reuters, echr.coe.int