Polish judge critical of government blocked from return to work after lifting of suspension reversed

A Polish judge and a leading critic of the government’s judicial policies, who has been suspended for nearly two years, appeared at court this morning after being informed that he had been allowed to return to work. However, after arriving he learnt that the decision had already been overturned.

In a long-running and widely watched case – seen by opponents of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party as representative of its repression of independent judges – Igor Tuleya was in 2020 stripped of immunity and suspended by the disciplinary chamber of Poland’s Supreme Court.

That chamber has been at the heart of Warsaw’s dispute with the European Commission, which required it to be closed and judges suspended by it to be restored in order for Poland to meet the “milestones” to unlock billions of euros in frozen funds.

The disciplinary chamber was closed down last month, and a decision to reinstate Tuleya was also made last week by the new president of Warsaw’s district court, Joanna Przanowska-Tomaszek, who implemented a March ruling ordering him to be allowed to perform his duties, reported state broadcaster TVP.

However, her order was overturned by Piotr Schab, Przanowska-Tomaszek’s predecessor who recently become president of Warsaw’s appeal court. As president of the district court Schab had also blocked Tuleya’s return to work.

In his latest decision, Schab said that the order allowing Tuleya to return to work is “an administrative action that is not in compliance with a valid and enforceable resolution of the Supreme Court’s disciplinary chamber of 18 November 2020,” according to a copy of the document published by the Polish Judges Association.

After receiving Schab’s decision, Tuleya promised to “fight [it] by all legal means”, reports TVN24. He noted that it “shows that not much has changed in matters of the rule of law”.

Poland’s government has committed to undoing some of the more controversial aspects of its judicial reforms, but critics say that the changes are superficial. For example, when the disciplinary chamber was abolished, it was immediately replaced by a “chamber of judicial responsibility” that serves a similar purpose.

When asked if he would refer his case to the new chamber, Tuleya said that he “has doubts” about its independence. At the same time, he announced that he would fight his case before the ordinary courts, which are “still independent”, and before European courts.

Tuleya has faced a long-running investigation over a ruling he made in 2017 that effectively went against PiS. Prosecutors – who are also seen as being under the government’s influence – launched criminal proceedings against him, arguing that he had allowed the public disclosure of details of the case to “unauthorised” people.

Tuleya has dismissed the case against him as “political” and has refused to accept his suspension by the disciplinary chamber, which he regards as illegitimate.

Polish disciplinary chamber for judges is not lawful, rules European rights court

The Supreme Court itself ruled in 2019 that “the disciplinary chamber is not a court within the meaning of EU and national law”. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights also found that it is “not a tribunal established by law” and the European Court of Justice ordered it to be suspended.

PiS, however, argues that its reforms are designed to make judges more accountable and denies that they are a violation of the rule of law.

The party’s chairman, Jarosław Kaczyński, last week accused the EU of reneging on its promise to unlock funds in return for Poland meeting the agreed milestones, and accused the European Commission of constantly “finding new excuses” to block the money.

“We have no reason to fulfil our obligations towards the EU,” says Polish leader Kaczyński

Main image credit: Jakub Wlodek / Agencja Gazeta

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