Two American congressmen urge President Duda not to sign court reforms

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Changes to the Polish judicial system currently implemented by the government raise concerns because they "fail to respect the principles of judicial independence and separation of powers" - Representatives Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Bill Keating, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the Environment wrote in a letter to Polish President Andrzej Duda. In their view, if Poland decides to enact the law disciplining judges, it "would represent a significant step backward for Poland’s historically strong leadership in democratic reforms in Europe".

The letter written by American congressmen addressed to the Polish president refers to dangers to Polish democratic institutions posed, in their opinion, by currently proceeded changes to the judiciary. The document is dated January 17th. On Sunday (January 19th) it was published at the website of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, dominated by representatives from the Democratic Party. Both signatories of the letter are members of that party.

In their letter to Andrzej Duda, congressmen Engel and Keating call for stopping currently proceeded legislation on disciplinary measures for judges and upholding "Poland’s commitment to democratic values".

"Fail to respect judicial independence and separation of powers"

If passed, the amendment in question would permit disciplinary charges against judges who challenge government policies removing checks and balances and would limit the participation of judge-led bodies in decision-making, including the appointment of the President of the Supreme Court and other judges. "Enacting this law would represent a significant step backward for Poland’s historically strong leadership in democratic reforms in Europe. The erosion of democratic principles would undermine the great strides Poland has made through the decades to build a modern, democratic country" - the congressmen wrote.

Signatories of the letter reminded that they have been "long-time supporters of a strong U.S.-Poland relationship based on shared democratic values". In their opinion, reforms of the justice system carried out by the Polish government raise concerns because they "fail to respect the principles of judicial independence and separation of powers".

As the congressmen wrote, changes that have been implemented since 2015 aim to "to consolidate power at the expense of Poland’s democratic institutions". "These same methods have been used to purge the military and intelligence services of those who do not express complete agreement with government policy and replace them with party loyalists, sullying the non-partisan nature of these institutions," they argued.

"A threat to judicial independence"

"We have particular concerns about the bill recently passed by the Sejm on December 20, 2019, introducing amendments to the Act on Common Courts, the Act on the Supreme Court, and other acts. Consistent with other so-called reforms adopted over the past four years, this bill represents a threat to judicial independence, limits judges’ freedom of expression and association, reduces judges’ self-governance, and widens political control over the works of the courts" - Eliot Engel and Bill Keating wrote.

Bill Keating, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, Energy, and the EnvironmentJohn Stephen Dwyer CC BY-SA Wikipedia

"We hope to see a vibrant Polish democracy flourish for its people and for Europe. However, Poland’s strength – like America’s – is based on respect for democratic traditions and values. For this reason, we urge you – as friends of Poland – to not sign this legislation" - U.S. lawmakers stressed in the letter to President Duda.

Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign AffairsUS Congress

The bill adopted by the lower house on December 20th extends judges' disciplinary liability and changes the procedure of appointing the Supreme Court Chief Justice. It was rejected in full by the Senate on Friday, January 17th. The draft legislation has been referred back to the Sejm. The chamber will now have to decide on the next step. 

The Sejm has the right to overrule the Senate's decision to reject the amendment in full, as well as to send it to the president to ratify it. 

Źródło: TVN24 News in English, PAP

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