The European Union’s top court on Thursday rejected requests by Polish judges for it to assess the legality of judicial reforms introduced in 2017, arguing that its findings are not relevant to the two cases before them.
The national-conservative Polish government has introduced a spate of judicial reforms in recent years.
These include measures that allow for disciplinary action against judges, on the basis of decisions they reach in court.
Brussels is at loggerheads with Warsaw over several aspects of its judicial overhaul.
In the current case, two Polish judges had reached out to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) because they feared that rulings they were due to reach could trigger disciplinary proceedings against them.
One case relates to a dispute between the Polish town of Lowicz and the State Treasury over the payment of public funds.
The other case is about the early release of convicted criminals for cooperating with the authorities.
The Polish judges argued that the 2017 measures could be used as a tool to remove unpopular judges and that judges could pre-emptively modify their behaviour, feeling constrained by the law.
But the Luxembourg-based court ruled that neither case before the two Polish judges relies on its interpretation of EU rules, since the issues at stake are purely domestic.
At the same time, the ECJ said it is not permissible, under EU law, for the Polish judges to face disciplinary proceedings as a result of them seeking the advice of the top EU court.
The Polish judges’ association Iustitia, which is critical of the government’s policies, stressed the importance of this statement, saying such disciplinary proceedings had already been attempted.
Other aspects of Poland’s judicial overhaul are also under scrutiny at the ECJ.
The governing PiS party has repeatedly claimed that reforms of the judicial system, which it views as corrupt and self-serving, are necessary.
Deputy Justice Minister Marcin Warhol said the ECJ’s rejection of the cases unveiled the true motivation of the judges who had called on the court.
“This decision bears witness to the compromising and the political motives that led the judges to submit their questions.
“It also shows that they know little about EU law and the case law of the ECJ,” Warhol said.
The party’s political opponents, meanwhile, say that the changes do not address the real woes of the system but are rather an attempt to assert control over the judiciary.
The European Commission has launched a separate disciplinary process in response to Polish rule-of-law concerns.
However, that procedure – under Article 7 of the EU treaty – has failed to deliver results so far, with little chance of imposing punitive measures on Warsaw.
“This ruling is not linked to and has no impact on the ongoing infringement procedure on the disciplinary regime for judges in Poland, which the commission referred to the Court in October 2019,” said Christian Wigand, a spokesman for the EU Executive.