European rights body returns to Poland to review rule of law

AP News
Posted: Sep 12, 2016 11:02 AM
European rights body returns to Poland to review rule of law

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Members of a European law and human rights commission are for the second time this year considering the state of democracy in Poland after the conservative government rejected the body's previous advice.

The European Union is checking whether Poland is observing the bloc's "rule of law," or common constitutional standards and traditions. Poland's government, which took office in November and is critical of some EU policies, says the monitoring amounts to interference in internal affairs.

Envoys from the Venice Commission, a watchdog body of constitutional law experts, met Monday with the head of Poland's Supreme Court, Judge Malgorzata Gersdorf. Commissioners also were to meet with the head of the Constitutional Tribunal — another top court that is at the heart of a recent political conflict in Poland and of the EU's scrutiny.

Commission representatives are focusing their inquiry on rulings by the tribunal that for a time were blocked by the government.

European Union leaders also have criticized Poland's government for reforms it has introduced into the legislative system, the media and police. The European Parliament is expected to issue a resolution on the subject on Wednesday.

Supreme Court spokesman Dariusz Swiecicki said Monday the commissioners have very good knowledge of the situation and Poland's legal system.

In March, the commission said that steps taken by the government to influence and weaken the Constitutional Tribunal threatened democracy. The actions included placing judges of its choice in the tribunal, which at the time was dominated by opposition party members. The tribunal has the power to block government-proposed laws.

The government disregarded the Venice Commission's recommendations for resolving the court's resulting paralysis, saying it was a non-binding opinion.

The defiant head of Poland's ruling party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a lawyer, has said the latest visit is of "no importance."

"Such lack of objectivism, refusing to take Polish law into consideration ... leads us to treat the commission with great distance," Kaczynski told a meeting of his Law and Justice party on Sunday.

The party enjoys majority support on policy that addresses poverty and Poland's traditional Catholic values and boosts national pride, while saying the EU has too much control over member states.