Press Releases

City Bar Urges Congressional Leaders to Support Judicial Independence in Poland

In a letter to United States congressional leaders on the Committee on Foreign Relations, the New York City Bar Association expressed concerns about “the impending final step in the politicization of the Polish judiciary.” On July 3, 2018, when a new law passed in December 2017 goes into final effect, more than 40 percent of the Polish Supreme Court will be required by law to seek the President of Poland’s permission to continue to serve on the Court. The law provides the President of Poland with the discretionary authority to terminate all Supreme Court judges age 65 and over, even those whose terms are not completed, an act which by itself violates the Polish constitution.

“Although we continue to appreciate the State Department’s previous statements supporting judicial independence and separation of powers in Poland,” the letter notes, “we believe it is imperative that the U.S. government clearly denounce the Polish government’s plan to place its country’s judiciary under legislative and executive control through this final legislative stroke. At the time of our previous letter raising these concerns in September 2017, the U.S. government had sufficient time to work with its allies in Warsaw to protect the integrity of the Polish judiciary. However, time is now of the essence, and we urge you to take renewed action to support judicial independence and the rule of law in Poland.”

“The Polish government’s elimination of judicial independence does not stop at the Supreme Court,” the letter adds. The July 3 deadline will also bring about the establishment of an “extraordinary appeal” body—a quasi-judicial entity that will have the power to rehear cases that have been adjudicated by common or martial law courts within the past twenty years. The body will be empowered to reconsider matters pertaining to the facts and law of cases taken up for review and will have the authority to issue new and unreviewable decisions. The body will include so-called ‘lay judges’—individuals appointed by the Polish Senate who need not have any legal training. The existence of a body containing political appointees and politically-approved judges that can reverse decisions that have been in place for decades will severely undermine judicial certainty and the rule of law in Poland.

“The politicized manipulation of the Supreme Court’s composition and the establishment of the ‘extraordinary appeal’ body will violate widely accepted international standards on judicial independence.”

The letter urges congressional leaders to take immediate steps to ensure that the U.S. government clearly communicates to the Polish President, Prime Minister, and Law and Justice Party leaders its disapproval of the pending politicization of the Polish judiciary. It concludes, “[w]e hope that you will continue to play that role by demonstrating to the Polish government that the United States will not sit idle while the government of a key ally undermines judicial independence and the rule of law.”

Read the letter here.

About the Association
The mission of the New York City Bar Association, which was founded in 1870 and has 24,000 members, is to equip and mobilize the legal profession to practice with excellence, promote reform of the law, and uphold the rule of law and access to justice in support of a fair society and the public interest in our community, our nation, and throughout the world.