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A seven-member panel of the European Court of Human Rights found that by arbitrarily dismissing the vice-presidents of the Kielce Regional Court in 2018, Poland has violated Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to a fair and public trial). The Court noted that the decisions of the Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro to put a premature end to the judges’ six-year terms were not subject to appeal. According to the Polish government, the lack of appealability was supposed to facilitate the implementation of "ministerial reforms of the Polish judicial system".
The ECHR also noted that the judges’ removal took place under a legally doubtful provision of the Act on Common Courts of 12 July 2017, which allowed Zbigniew Ziobro to dismiss presidents and vice-presidents of courts at will and without restrictions. At the same time, the court stressed that the Justice Minister's decisions did not contain any justification and were not subject to review by an external body that was independent of the minister.
Poland was ordered to pay each judge €20.000
The Strasbourg Court stressed the importance of protecting the independence of the judiciary and the "principle of respect for procedural justice". It also noted the need to introduce procedural guarantees to ensure the protection of judicial autonomy.
According to the ECHR judgment, Poland is to pay each of the judges €20,000 in compensation for the material and non-material damage they suffered. The parties have the right to appeal the judgment to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights.
The judges who filed the complaints are Alina Bojara and Mariusz Broda. Both served as vice-presidents of the Regional Court in Kielce until the beginning of 2018. They were removed from their posts by Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro as part of the ruling camp’s nationwide purge of court presidents and vice presidents. Between 2017 and 2018, the Justice Minister arbitrarily dismissed about 150 judges across the country.
The judicial overhaul was made possible by passing an amendment of the Law on Common Courts. It has been signed into law by President Andrzej Duda despite nationwide protests. Empowered by the new legislation, the Justice Minister later appointed his own nominees to replace the removed judges without consulting his decision without the judges he fired.
Ms Bojara and Mr Broda lost their posts before the end of the six-year term for which they were appointed. In Strasbourg, they accused Poland of violating Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees everyone the right to a fair hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal. The judges argued that they were dismissed from their positions illegally and arbitrarily, and were deprived of the possibility to appeal the minister's decision.
Ministry explains its decisions with the need to "increase efficiency"
In her complaint, judge Alina Bojara wrote that "there was no legal basis for her dismissal" and that the dismissal itself was conducted in a "wrong way". – What I can also say is that there was no legal recourse available to me- she added.
The Justice Ministry justified the staff changes in the Kielce regional court by the need to "increase efficiency". Otherwise, the court would allegedly be unable to "handle the influx of criminal cases"- it argued. The dismissed vice-presidents thought it was just a thinly-veiled excuse, especially since the court had pretty good results in 2017.
- I will defend the rights that I believe have been violated to the very end- Judge Bojara said.
Prime Minister Morawiecki comments on the ECHR ruling
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki referred to ECHR’s Tuesday judgment during a press conference. He said that Poland will take into account the Court’s judgments, but will "implement the reform of the judiciary in line with its own priorities". The Justice Ministry, in turn, deemed the verdict political.
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