The European Court of Human Rights on Thursday unanimously ruled that a Polish disciplinary chamber for judges had deprived a Polish barrister of her right to a fair trial.
The barrister, Joanna Reczkowicz, argued that the chamber, known as the Disciplinary Chamber of the Polish Supreme Court, had not been legally established and lacked the independence to properly rule in her appeal of a three-year suspension. She pointed to the fact that the chamber’s members are not elected by judges, but by Poland’s lower house of parliament.
While the European Court of Human Rights did not weigh in on the overall legality of the chamber, it did conclude that Reczkowicz lost her right to a fair trial as laid out in the European Convention on Human Rights.
In its ruling, the court agreed with Reczkowicz that political influence had tainted the disciplinary chamber, given the involvement of the legislative and executive branches in appointing members.
The court ordered the Polish government to pay Reczkowicz €15,000 in damages and €420 for expenses.
Established in 2017, the disciplinary chamber has been criticized by democracy advocates who argue it is essentially a political body and symptomatic of a broader erosion of democratic norms in Poland, which has become the target of regular EU criticism.
On Tuesday, the European Commission rebuked Poland over its judicial reforms in a report assessing the rule of law landscape among EU countries.
The disciplinary chamber itself has also faced rebukes from the EU’s top court. Last week, the Court of Justice said the chamber violates EU law.
Meanwhile, a top Polish court has struck back at such EU measures, ruling last week that the country didn’t have to apply Court of Justice rulings affecting the judiciary.
Reczkowicz is also far from the first person to turn to the European Court of Human Rights over Poland’s judiciary reforms. Since 2018, the court said Thursday, there have been 38 complaints filed to the court regarding recent changes to Poland’s judicial system.
The European Court of Human Rights is an international body created to interpret the European Convention on Human Rights. It is not a part of the EU.