Rule of Law in Poland

Justice

Effective justice systems are essential for upholding the rule of law. Independence, quality and efficiency are the defined parameters of an effective justice system, whatever the model of the national legal system and tradition in which it is anchored. Whilst the organisation of justice in the Member States falls within the competence of the Member States, when they are exercising that competence, Member States must ensure that their national justice systems provide for effective judicial protection. The independence of national courts is fundamental to ensuring such judicial protection. National courts ensure that the rights and obligations provided under EU law are enforced effectively. As re-affirmed by the European Court of Justice, the very existence of effective judicial review to ensure compliance with EU law is of the essence for the rule of law. Effective justice systems are also the basis for mutual trust, which is the bedrock of the common area of freedom, justice and security, an investment friendly environment, the sustainability of long-term growth and the protection of EU financial interests. The European Court of Justice has further clarified the requirements stemming from EU law regarding judicial independence. The case-law of the European Court of Human Rights also provides for key standards to be respected to safeguard judicial independence.

Independence

red
The justice reforms started in November 2015 were continued.
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The perception of judicial independence among the general public and companies is low and has shown a decreasing trend in recent years.
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Court of Justice judgments have confirmed EU law requirements on judicial independence.
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Concerns over the independence and legitimacy of the Constitutional Tribunal, raised by the Commission under the Article 7(1) TEU procedure, have so far not been resolved.
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The National Council for the Judiciary is composed mainly of politically appointed members.
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The two new chambers in the Supreme Court, created under the 2018 reform, have been granted new powers in 2019.
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The Supreme Court has been subject to new reforms, in particular as regards the procedure for appointing its First President.
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The disciplinary regime for judges has been amended and is actively used.
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Judges are subject to numerous new requirements.
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A general prohibition for Polish courts to challenge the powers of courts and tribunals, constitutional organs and law enforcement agencies has been introduced by the law of 20 December 2019.
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The fact that the Minister of Justice is at the same time the Prosecutor General raises particular concerns regarding the power to issue instructions in individual cases and to transfer prosecutors.
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Quality

yellow
Funding for the judiciary has seen a gradual increase since 2016.
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As regards human resources, a number of judicial posts remain vacant.
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There is room for improvement as regards digitalisation of the justice system.
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Reforms concerning legal aid, court fees and civil procedure have entered into force in 2019.
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Efficiency

yellow
The overall performance of ordinary courts is close to the EU average when it comes to length of proceedings.
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The performance of administrative courts is above the EU average.
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Anti-corruption

The fight against corruption is essential for maintaining the rule of law. Corruption undermines the functioning of the state and of public authorities at all levels and is a key enabler of organised crime 48 . Effective anti-corruption frameworks, transparency and integrity in the exercise of state power can strengthen legal systems and trust in public authorities. Fighting corruption needs to be based on evidence about its prevalence and form in a given country, the conditions that enable corruption and the legal, institutional and other incentives that can be used to prevent, detect and sanction corruption.

Institutional Framework

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In the latest Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International, Poland scores 58/100 and ranks 12th in the European Union and 41st globally.
View source | Our evaluation: red
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A planned initiative aims to further develop the anti-corruption legal framework.
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Changes to the Criminal Code were proposed.
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Prevention

yellow
Issues of ethics and integrity in the public sector, and conflicts of interest are currently regulated by several basic acts.
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Measures exist to regulate lobbying and ‘revolving doors’ and certain provisions allow for the protection of whistleblowers.
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Repressive measures

yellow
The Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CAB) is the specialised anti-corruption body.
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There is no unified legislation or centralised submission and monitoring system for asset declarations.
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Media Freedom

All Member States have legal frameworks in place to protect media freedom and pluralism and EU citizens broadly enjoy high standards of media freedom and pluralism. Freedom of expression, media freedom and pluralism and the right of access to information are generally enshrined in the Constitution or in secondary law. Media pluralism and media freedom are key enablers for the rule of law, democratic accountability and the fight against corruption. The murders of journalists who were investigating high-level corruption and organised crime allegations have been a wake-up call reminding Member States of the obligation to guarantee an enabling environment for journalists, protect their safety and pro-actively promote media freedom and media pluralism.

Regulatory authorities

yellow
The legal framework provides safeguards for the independence of the media regulator.
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The Polish media regulator might still be subject to political influence.
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Transparency of Media

red
The legal framework concerning the transparency of media ownership in Poland is not equally applicable to all media actors.
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There is a lack of regulatory safeguards limiting political control over media outlets in Poland.
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Journalists' Protection

yellow
Criminal law provisions may affect certain aspects of the framework for journalists’ protection and activities.
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The current legal framework recognises the right of access to public information. However, there have been recurring cases of refusing such access.
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Other Institutional Issues

Institutional checks and balances are at the core of the rule of law. They guarantee the functioning, cooperation and mutual control of State organs so that power is exercised by one state authority with the scrutiny of others. In addition to an effective justice systems, checks and balances rely on a transparent, accountable, democratic and pluralistic process for enacting laws, the separation of powers, the constitutional and judicial review of laws, a transparent and high-quality public administration as well as effective independent authorities such as ombudsperson institutions or national human rights institutions.

Preparing and enacting laws

red
In the period of 2015-2019, the expedited adoption of legislation was widely used, with important examples including significant structural reforms of the judiciary.
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On 20 March 2020, the Government introduced a state of epidemic to face the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Civil Society

yellow
New developments adversely affect the civil society space.
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Accessibility

red
Supreme Court judges appointed under the 2017 reform are empowered to review ordinary courts’ rulings in certain cases dating back 20 years.
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Independent Authorities

green
The Ombudsman plays an important role in defending the rule of law.
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