(Bloomberg) -- Poland was ordered by the European Union’s top court to “immediately suspend” its controversial disciplinary regime for judges, a setback for the nationalist government.
The EU Court of Justice backed the European Commission’s request for so-called interim measures in the pending case -- one of the biggest challenges to legal reforms in Poland that critics have said threaten judicial independence.
The Brussels-based commission sued Poland in October over concerns that the nation’s new measures don’t protect judges from political control. The case is part of a series of probes into the rule of law and democratic standards in EU members also including Hungary and the Czech Republic.
With the EU preoccupied with the coronavirus, Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban won the right last week to rule by decree indefinitely. In Poland, the ruling Law & Justice party is pushing for a solely mail-in-ballot presidential vote next month that European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova said may compromise democratic standards.
“Hungary may be already lost, but there is a chance to save Poland from its ruling party,” said Laurent Pech, a professor of European law at Middlesex University in London.
The dispute is over Law & Justice’s attempt to discipline judges and pass legislation cracking down on magistrates who question the government’s actions.
EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said on Twitter that “it was important” for the EU executive “to act to protect the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law in Poland.”
Wednesday’s order to suspend the disciplinary chamber upends the measures designed to subordinate judges and should halt the disciplinary system until there’s a final court ruling on the underlying case.
The government hit back, questioning the EU court’s ability to rule on matters in Poland. Warsaw will refer the decision to Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal before responding to the bloc, Premier Mateusz Morawiecki said Wednesday.
Earlier this year the European Commission said the Constitutional Court’s legitimacy had been undermined and it can no longer “provide effective constitutional review.”
The EU court’s decision may also have implications for a chamber that will rule on the validity the May 10 presidential election, according to Iustitia, the largest group representing nation’s judges, said Wednesday.
“The Control Chamber is equally as tainted as the Disciplinary Chamber,” Iustitia head judge Krystian Markiewicz said Wednesday. “The ruling means this chamber also shouldn’t adjudicate.”
(Updates with Polish PM comment in 9th paragraph.)
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