Official: Rights court could start getting cases from Poland

AP News
Posted: Apr 04, 2016 1:01 PM
Official: Rights court could start getting cases from Poland

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A leading European human rights official said Monday that he is concerned that the European Court of Human Rights could start receiving complaints from Poland that it is unprepared to handle given that the Polish judiciary has been weakened by a constitutional crisis.

Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland said that would be problematic because the court, which is based in Strasbourg, "is already overburdened."

He called on Poland's parliament to resolve the crisis to avoid such a situation.

His visit to Poland, which involves meetings with top leaders, comes after the Venice Commission, a body of constitutional experts that is part of the Council of Europe, said last month that the constitutional crisis is damaging Poland's democracy, rule of law and human rights.

After winning power last year, the conservative ruling party Law and Justice passed new laws and took other steps which have paralyzed the Constitutional Tribunal, making it unable to act as a check on government power. It then made other sweeping institutional change, such as increasing its control over the broadcast media and eliminating the independent office of attorney general.

Law and Justice say the changes are reforms needed to eliminate lingering liberal and post-communist influences in institutions, something it says would hamper its democratic mandate for conservative change.

The party has tried to justify its moves against the court by arguing that the previous ruling party, Civic Platform, tried to stack the court with its supporters in a way that has since been deemed illegal by the same court.

Jagland said he has seen such problems elsewhere in other countries with a similar historical background to Poland's, which was under communist authoritarian rule for decades until 1989.

"Those who get the power overuse it and grab most of the power to take control of the state institutions until a new majority comes in and does exactly the same," he said.