Polish prosecutors investigate court head for abuse of power

AP News
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Posted: Aug 19, 2016 7:18 AM
Polish prosecutors investigate court head for abuse of power

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish prosecutors have opened an investigation into the head of the country's Constitutional Tribunal to determine if he abused his power in not allowing judges appointed by the ruling party to take part in rulings.

The investigation into Andrzej Rzeplinski, which opened Thursday, is the latest development in an ongoing conflict between the Polish government and the constitutional court, whose role is similar to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The government's conflict with the court has raised international concerns about the state of democracy in Poland, and the political opposition and other critics have slammed the investigation into Rzeplinski as an attack on the separation of powers.

Amid the conflict, Rzeplinski has emerged as one of the key symbols of resistance against the right-wing government, which has moved to centralize power since winning elections last year. The investigation is seen by many as an attempt to discredit him since he enjoys, at least for now, immunity from prosecution. His term as head of the court also expires in December.

Rzeplinski called the investigation part of a "hybrid war" against the tribunal and "a feeble attempt to interfere in the independence and autonomy of the judiciary."

The problems with seating the three judges appointed by Law and Justice goes back to before that party won power, when the previous ruling party, Civic Platform, named five new judges to the 15-judge court.

However, two of those judges were determined to have been appointed illegally because the terms of those they were meant to replace had not yet expired when the appointments were made.

When Law and Justice came to power, it picked five new judges to replace all five of those appointed by the previous government, including the three that were appointed by the previous government in accordance with the rules.

The Constitutional Tribunal has allowed the two Law and Justice nominees appointed legally to take their seats on the court, but not the three which it deemed were chosen illegally.

That is only part of the bigger conflict between the government and the court. The government has also passed a law that changes the rules by which the court functions and makes it more difficult for the court to act as a check on the ruling party's power. The European Union says it violates the rule of law.