In a significant development that once again casts a shadow on the concept of the European Union, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the European Court of Human Rights has no power to question its appointment of judges. The ruling by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal rejects a ruling by Europe’s top human rights court.
The ruling by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal has sparked a crisis in the European Union. It has concluded that parts of the bloc’s treaties are incompatible with the Polish constitution.
“Article 6 of the Convention … as far as it includes the Constitutional Tribunal in its definition of a court, is not compatible,” with the Polish constitution, said judge Julia Przylebska, the head of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal.
She went on to add, Article 6 of the Convention was unconstitutional in as far as it gave the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) the right to assess the legality of the appointment of the Tribunal’s judges.
Earlier this year in May, the ECHR had ruled that a company had been denied its right to a proper hearing due to the illegal appointment of a Constitutional Tribunal judge.
Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled that it was not a court under the Convention as it controls the hierarchy of laws and does not rule on individuals’ rights.
The European Convention on Human Rights applies to members of the Council of Europe, an organisation which was formed after World War Two to protect human rights and the rule of law. The Council of Europe is separate from the European Union.
“All 47 Council of Europe member states, including Poland, have undertaken to secure the rights and freedoms set out in the European Convention on Human Rights, as interpreted by the ECHR. Member states are also obliged to implement the European Court’s judgments,” said Marija Pejcinovic Buric, secretary general of the Council of Europe, said.
She went on to add, “Today’s judgment from the Polish Constitutional Tribunal is unprecedented and raises serious concerns. We will carefully assess the judgment’s reasoning and its effects.”
Incidentally, the incoming German government has signalled that is likely to take a harder stance on issues surrounding the rule of law; in its coalition agreement it said, the European Commission should better implement existing rule of law instruments and rulings of European courts.
Poland’s nationalist government said, its judicial reforms are aimed at sweeping away remnants of communist influence and bring to heel judges who think they are above the law.
A cabinet minister from Poland welcomed the Tribunal’s ruling.
“Today, the rule of law has won over the usurpation of competences,” tweeted Michal Wojcik.