Mateusz Morawiecki, whose Law and Justice government gained a vote of confidence in parliament late on Tuesday, defended sweeping changes to Poland’s courts that have triggered a warning from Brussels and criticism at home.
In an opinion piece for the Washington Examiner published on Wednesday, Morawiecki said: “No democratic nation can long accept having any branch of government independent of checks, balances, and public accountability.
“That is the judiciary’s status in today’s Poland. And this very peculiar flaw of governance, its origins, and its consequences have been rarely discussed or understood in Europe and America.”
In the so-called Roundtable Talks of 1989 between Poland’s communists and the democratic opposition, then-president General Wojciech Jaruzelski – “the man who ran Poland’s martial law government for the Soviets – was allowed to nominate an entirely new bench of Communist-era judges to staff the post-communist courts. These judges dominated our judiciary for the next quarter century. Some remain in place,” Morawiecki said.
To this day, he added, “an elite council of 25, dominated by 15 judges on the appellate level or above, nominates all judges including their own successors. No trial judge or elected official participates. The president may accept or reject the nominees. The system lends itself to nepotism and corruption.”
‘Favors go to friends’
Morawiecki said that judges in Poland “are assigned to cases by their close peers with no public oversight. Favors go to friends. Vengeance is wreaked on rivals. Bribes are demanded in some of the most lucrative-looking cases.”
He added: “Proceedings have sometimes been dragged out interminably in the service of wealthy and influential defendants. Justice has too often not been available to those lacking political connections and large bank accounts. As much as on any other issue, the government was elected – and elected decisively – to overhaul this deeply flawed system.”
‘Far from dictatorial’
Morawiecki said that the judicial reforms that Poland is weighing are normal practice throughout Western democracies.
He added: “Far from being dictatorial or compromising judicial independence, as some charge, [the reforms] will introduce precisely the kinds of checks and balances that all liberal-minded people cherish in their own democracies.”
After a stormy debate, Poland’s lawmakers on Friday passed a contested law designed to reorganise the work of the country’s Supreme Court.
In another vote on Friday, deputies approved legislation to reorganise the influential National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), which nominates new judges.