WARSAW, Poland -- Pending legislation in Poland that gives politicians the authority to fire or fine judges would further undermine judicial independence in the country and violates European Union principles, European legal experts said Thursday.
Members of the Council of Europe's Venice Commission weighed in on a series of proposed changes to Poland's laws on the judiciary at the request of the country's Senate speaker. They issued an urgent opinion as the Senate debates the legislation.
The revisions “curtail the freedoms of expression and association of judges" who also would be “put into the impossible situation of having to face disciplinary proceedings for decisions” that followed European Union precedents as required, the opinion stated.
Poland's justice minister responded to the commission's critical appraisal with hostility, calling the seven-member panel's opinion a “parody” that insulted the EU member nation.
“No one should be lecturing us and say that he is better, wiser, that he has a bigger civilization base," Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said.
"We will never accept such a narrative,” Ziobro said, calling foreign experts who visit and appraise Poland's policies “sages and coxcombs.”
Several of the commission's experts were in Warsaw last week at the invitation of Senate Speaker Tomasz Grodzki, an opposition politician who is against the legislation approved last month by lawmakers in the lower house of parliament.
Poland's right-wing ruling party drafted and introduced the legal changes, arguing they are intended to prevent “anarchy” among judges, some of whom are critical of previous changes the party has made to the justice system.
The Venice Commission members recommended scrapping the bill and going back to the appointment system for top judges Poland used before the ruling party came to power. It said the changes have created a “legal schism” and the proposed legislation would “risk making things worse.”
Also Thursday, the European Parliament said that the rule of law situation in Poland and in Hungary has deteriorated and it urged the European Union to use all available means to counter the development.