Amidst fierce criticism from abroad and protests at home, Poland’s newly appointed Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki published an English-language opinion editorial in the Washington Examiner on December 13 defending the government’s attacks on the independence of the judiciary. Mr Morawiecki claims that criticism stems from “widespread misunderstanding of our plans to reform Poland’s deeply flawed judicial structure.”
The changes are necessary, he claims, to ensure oversight of judges. “No democratic nation can long accept having any branch of government independent of checks, balances, and public accountability. That is the judiciary’s status in today’s Poland.”
“Parliament and the government are currently debating the most appropriate way to appoint and discipline judges,” Mr Morawiecki writes. “Most feel that voting on judicial nominees should not be restricted to a small caste of senior jurists but opened to all judges around the country. Tenure will remain for life or until retirement, but the European Union’s mandatory retirement age for all employees of all governments may be applied to our judiciary. Establishing a disciplinary chamber of judges, lawyers and prosecutors is on the table, with some advocating participation by lay juries.”
Although Mr Morawiecki claims that the changes are “far from radical”, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission disagrees. In its analysis of the Polish legal reforms, the commission makes no fewer than six references to similarities with the Soviet system of justice, and in one case argues that Poland’s new system will be even worse. Specifically, a clause which allows for the reversal of old judgements which at the time of their adoption were final and not open to any further review. The commission notes that while this is not a retroactive application of criminal law, “it may in practical terms have a similar effect.”
A former banker, Mr Morawiecki was appointed prime minister on December 7 partly to reassure investors that the ruling Law and Justice party wanted to concentrate less on justice reform and more on the economy.
“A flourishing economy is a condition to run a generous social policy — as it is now. That is why we will continue our social programmes, furthermore, we will strengthen and develop them,” Mr Morawiecki said in an address to parliament on December 12.
Health care is one of the new prime minister’s priorities. Over the next few years, health care spending is expected to reach 6 per cent of Poland’s GDP. In 2018 alone, the government intends to spend 10 billion złotys in order to shorten the time it takes to receive treatment and lower the debt burden of public hospitals.