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Chief justice: Situation of Polish courts ‘extremely worrying’

Chief Justice Priit Pikamäe.
Chief Justice Priit Pikamäe. Source: (Anni Õnneleid/Ekspress Meedia)

Chief justice of Estonia’s Supreme Court, Priit Pikamäe, told ERR on Friday that the ongoing restructuring of Poland’s court system was an attempt to make the country’s courts subordinate to the government, and to limit their independence.

Pikamäe told ERR that the attacks on Poland’s court system began immediately after the currently governing Law and Justice Party (PiS) took over, throwing the country’s constitutional court into crisis.

“Today, where the government has begun to make the activities of Poland’s supreme court as well as those of the council managing the courts subject to its own, it is clear that we’re looking at a general attempt to limit the independence of Poland’s judiciary as a whole,” Pikamäe said.

In his double function also as chairman of the Network of the Presidents of the Supreme Judicial Courts of the European Union, Pikamäe has met with the European Commission’s first vice president, Frans Timmermans, to discuss the situation in Poland. The network has also published a position critical of the events taking place in Poland.

The lower house of the Polish parliament had adopted a law that basically dismantled the institution of the country’s supreme court, giving the justice minister the right to sack supreme court justices, Pikamäe pointed out. Because of these events, the European Commission was closer than ever before to taking steps to defend the rule of law in Poland.

“I’ve said before that attacking the independence of the courts is the first sign of democracy in danger. What is going on with the Polish, but also with the Hungarian and Turkish court systems clearly shows that the rule of law isn’t self-evident, and that standing up for it is always relevant,” Pikamäe said.

The Polish parliament passed a controversial reform on Thursday further reducing the independence of the country’s top-tier courts, among other things by moving more power over judicial appointments into the competency of the government.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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