Judge: Polish judicial reform may be difficult to reverse

Polish flag/.
Polish flag/. Source: Birgit Püve/Vabariigi Presidendi Kantselei

Poland's likely new government may find it had to reverse judicial reforms and work with President Andrzej Duda, Estonian legal and foreign affairs experts said on Monday.

Poland's election on Sunday gave the opposition parties a majority. They have pledged to reverse judicial reforms implemented by the former government which changed appointment rules for judges and the Supreme Court. A top EU court has said these changes violate EU law.

But Chairman of the Tallinn Administrative Court Judge Kaupo Kruusvee believes this may not be an easy task.

He said the reforms introduced after 2015 have damaged the independence of the Polish legal system.

"If we talk about the three branches of power – legislative, executive and judiciary – we can say that the ruling party [Law and Justice (PiS)] controls two of them and has tried to subordinate the third one to itself, i.e. to upset the balance of power," he told Monday's "Ringvaade"

Kruusvee said judicial independence protects everyone as it means disputes can be settled by an impartial and unprejudiced judge.

Kaupo Kruusvee Source: ERR

"This is something a judge can do if they are shielded from external influences. For example, they do not have to fear that if they make one or the other decision, they could lose their job. In Poland, this is exactly what happened – because a judge made a ruling that was not to the liking of those in power, they were essentially deprived of their job."

The biggest opposition party Civic Coalition (CO), led by Former President of the European Council Donald Tusk, has promised to reverse these judicial reforms if it comes to power. 

"But as far as I know, these changes are already so fundamental, and many new judges have already been appointed, that the reversal may not be as easy and as quick as the developments so far," he said.

The judge said there are no problems with the independence of judges in Estonia. This is shown by a survey conducted last year.

"30 percent of judges rated their independence at nearly nine out of ten. I would like to say that there are no major problems with the independence of judges in Estonia today. I too have no experience of anyone externally influencing one or the other decision. At the same time, in the case of Poland, we must not let our guard down, as the changes to the system took place in a relatively short space of time, within one or two years," he said.

Former diplomat: CO faces challenges working with president

Mihkel Metsa. Source: ERR

Cooperation between CO and Polish President Andrzej Duda could be challenging if Tusk's party takes office, said Estonia's former Ambassador to Poland (2012-2015) Mihkel Metsa.

PiS won the largest vote share at the election but is unlikely to be able to form a government. Duda is still likely to give the party the possibility to try, and then CO will be allowed to try if PiS fails. Duda was a supporter of PiS before he was voted into office.

One of the biggest challenges will be how to put Poland on a different track in terms of foreign and domestic politics, the former diplomat said.

"One of the major themes will be relations with the European Union and Euro subsidies, and in this context the reform of the judiciary, which PiS has implemented. If they can do that, they will also be able to unfreeze the currently frozen euro subsidies, which are over €30 billion," said Metsa.

PiS promised everything it could during the election campaign, including higher salaries, social benefits, and increased defense spending, Metsa told foreign affairs show "Välisilm".

But disputes with neighbors, including Ukraine, could have contributed to its loss of support among voters.

"I think this may have influenced the support for Law and Justice's potential coalition partner Confederation. One of the reasons why PiS cannot form a coalition at the moment is that their potential coalition partner performed so badly – they were expecting 10 percent but got 6 percent. They are not pro-Ukrainian, but society is," said Metsa.


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Editor: Merili Nael, Helen Wright

Source: Välisilm, Ringvaade

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