EU divided: Brussels tells Poland to shut down controversial disciplinary panel for judges

The EU’s top court argued the disciplinary chamber allows for too much political influence and raises questions over judicial independence in the country. Critics have claimed the body would allow Warsaw government to investigate and punish judges for rulings politicians disagree with. The chamber must now be suspended until the ECJ fully determines whether it is sufficiently independent under EU law.

The ECJ has decided to grant the European Commission’s request for “interim measures” that suspend the body.

The Brussels executives said in January that the chamber creates a “risk of irreparable damage for Polish judges”, and asked the ECJ to take immediate action.

Poland ignores previous rulings that demanded its punishment chamber should be closed down.

The Luxembourg-based court said this posed a risk of “serious damage to the EU legal order”.

A statement added: “The Izba Dyscyplinarna must be suspended until delivery of the final judgement, the harm resulting for the individuals concerned from the suspicion of those cases would be less than that resulting from the examination of those cases by a bad whose lack of independence and impartiality cannot be ruled out.”

The ruling is the latest in an ongoing conflict between the Commission and Poland’s national Law and Justice government.

Poland’s Supreme Court has previously warned the country could have to leave the EU if it wants to continue pushing through controversial judicial reforms.

Brussels has also raised concerns over Poland’s decision to carry out May’s presidential elections by postal ballot to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Law and Justice managed to push measures through the lower house for the poll to be conducted wholly by postal vote, which some critics may be illegal or unconstitutional.

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The opposition has claimed the formate will unfairly boost the re-election hopes of president Andrzej Duda.

Despite being ahead of all of his rivals in opinion polls, Mr Duda, who is seeking a second five-year term, has indicated he is open to postponing the vote.

But Law and Justice, which supports the conservative politician, has been seeking to hold the election regardless of the global pandemic.

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Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, a candidate for the opposition Civic Coalition, tweeted that the the government was “conducting a coup d’état to ensure full power for the coming years”.

Poland so far has 5,000 coronavirus infections and 152 deaths, with prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki warning the numbers would likely peak in May or June.

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