A new disciplinary body on Poland’s Supreme Court doesn’t guarantee judicial independence, the advocate general of the Court of Justice of the European Union said in an opinion issued Thursday.
The Disciplinary Chamber of the Polish Supreme Court is part of deep reforms to the Polish judicial system carried out by the ruling Law and Justice party. The chamber was meant to examine the cases of judges forced to retire early under a new law.
The opinion comes as another blow to the government after the European Court of Justice found on Monday that rules lowering the retirement age for judges on the country’s Supreme Court breach EU law. The ECJ’s advocate general issued a separate opinion last week saying that another law lowering the retirement age of judges violated the bloc’s rules.
In Thursday’s opinion, Advocate General Evgeni Tanchev said that the chamber “does not satisfy the requirements of judicial independence under EU law,” as the body that chooses its members, the National Council of the Judiciary (NCJ), is dependent on the executive and legislative branches.
He said that the way the NCJ is appointed “discloses deficiencies that appear likely to compromise its independence from the legislative and executive authorities.” As a result, there are “legitimate reasons to objectively doubt the independence of the Disciplinary Chamber.”
The Supreme Court sent a request to the ECJ asking it to determine if the chamber offered “sufficient guarantees of independence under EU law to hear such claims.”
Leszek Mazur, the head of the NCJ, rejected the advocate’s opinion, telling the Polish Press Agency that it “contains surprising statements with which we do not agree.” He insisted that the council is free of political interference and warned that if the EU court follows the advocate’s opinion, “It could mean interference in the sovereignty of our country.”
The advocate’s opinion is non-binding, but it’s usually upheld by the court. The EU judges have three months to publish their verdict.