Last week, judge Waldemar Żurek received a letter summoning him to a disciplinary hearing for no particular reason. It is only the latest attempt to intimidate the Kraków-based judge for his criticism of the Polish government's sweeping judicial overhaul.
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- I feel like the protagonist of Franz Kafka's "The Trial" - says the dissident judge from Kraków.

Last week, Mr Żurek received two mysterious letters from the Supreme Court. One of them said that he was being served a copy of an order issued by the President of the Supreme Court (who’s also in charge of the court’s Disciplinary Chamber). Nothing else. The second letter was equally cryptic. It was the order itself.

In it, the head of the Supreme Court mentions that she is granting the deputy disciplinary commissioner’s motion to designate the Disciplinary Court at the Wrocław Court of Appeals "as the court having jurisdiction to hear the disciplinary case of Judge Waldemar Żurek in the first instance". Interestingly, the letter wasn’t signed by the president herself, but by the head of the Disciplinary Chamber’s office.

Summoned to a disciplinary hearing for no specific reason

- Even the way in which these letters were delivered to me was bizarre - says judge Waldemar Żurek. – I used to pick them up at the personnel office. This time, they were handed to me personally by a staff member in the middle of a hearing. She came into the courtroom during the trial and handed me the letters. I was stunned – Judge Żurek says. 

None of the letters says a single word about the concern of the disciplinary proceeding and the specific charges brought against judge Żurek. - I don't even know what this case is about. Nobody has told me anything about the situation. I don’t know what I’m being charged with- says the judge, spreading his arms in an uncomprehending gesture.

Because of his vocal criticism of the ruling camp’s sweeping overhaul of Poland’s justice system, Mr Żurek has been a target of persistent harassment. The dissident judge is already facing 11 disciplinary proceedings for, among other things, criticizing the unlawful actions of government officials.  

The „frozen" Disciplinary Chamber continues to operate

We contacted the Disciplinary Chamber’s spokesperson to find out what the disciplinary proceeding against judge Żurek is about, but the answer we received did not clarify anything - The Supreme Court does not have the case file, so I cannot provide you with any information about the charges, evidence, etc. -  said Piotr Falkowski, the Disciplinary Chamber’s spokesman.

But there is yet another issue with the case. On August 5, the president of the Supreme Court decided that all new disciplinary cases or hearings concerning judicial or prosecutorial immunity brought before the Disciplinary Chamber will remain at the office of the president of the Supreme Court and will be stored there. In practice, it means that the work of the Disciplinary Chamber will be "frozen" until November 15, as indicated by the president of the Supreme Court Małgorzata Manowska. Her decision to suspend the Chamber followed a mid-July CJEU ruling which stated that Poland’s disciplinary regime for judges is incompatible with EU law. According to the CJEU, the Chamber, which was staffed entirely with the help of the politicized National Council of the Judiciary, is not independent, and thus cannot legally adjudicate.

The Disciplinary Commissioner’s motion in judge Żurek’s case was submitted to the Supreme Court on 14 September, i.e. after President Manowska's order to freeze the Chamber. How come the case was still referred to the Wrocław court then? 

A "technical procedure"

When asked about it, the Chamber’s spokesman called it a "technical procedure". –The Supreme Court does not make any substantive decisions in said case. Rather, under Article 110 § 3 of the Law on the Common Court System it is the President in charge of the Disciplinary Chamber who designates the competent court. The judge you’re asking about serves on the Kraków appellate circuit, so his disciplinary case can only be heard by another Court of Appeals. The role of the Supreme Court’s President is to designate one of 10 such courts, which is essentially a technical and routine procedure- Piotr Falkowski explained. He argues that President Manowska's August 5 order "applies only to cases falling within the jurisdiction of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, which is not the case here.

- This situation is completely bizarre. After all, there is a CJEU ruling ordering the Disciplinary Chamber to cease all of its activity. I get a letter from an illegal institution in the middle of a hearing, signed by the head of the office, not the president, and no one even tells me what the case is all about. Kafka would not have invented that. But the point is to throw me off balance, to make me angry again - judge Waldemar Żurek believes.


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