EU top court defends right of Polish judges to appeal nominations

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FILE PHOTO: General view of Supreme Court in Warsaw, Poland September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo

WARSAW (Reuters) – Judges applying to join Poland’s Supreme Court should have the right to appeal against the opinions of a body which reviews candidates, the European Union’s top court said, underlining a rift over the rule of law between the country and the bloc.

While Tuesday’s verdict by the Court of Justice of the European Union said the final decision in such cases rested with a Polish court, the judgment touches on a public body that critics say has become a tool to politicise the judiciary.

Poland is in a long-running row with the EU over reforms that the bloc says hurt court independence by increasing political control over judges. The nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) says the reforms are necessary to make courts more efficient.

The Court of Justice ruled that successive amendments to a Law on the National Council of the Judiciary which in effect remove judicial review of its decisions could infringe EU law. The Council evaluates judicial appointments.

“Where an infringement has been proved, the principle of the primacy of EU law requires the national court to disapply such amendments,” the court said.

The Court of Justice has in recent years brought several cases against Poland over its overhaul of the judiciary. Among the changes made by PiS since taking power in 2015 are amendments to the way Council members are elected.

Critics said this has led to the Council being politicised.

The court said that EU law prohibits amendments that could lead to judges not being seen to be independent or impartial.

“It is ultimately for the referring court to rule on whether that is the case here,” it said.

Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by William Maclean

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