Judiciary of Poland

The judiciary of Poland (Polish: sądownictwo w Polsce) are the authorities exercising the judicial power of the Polish state on the basis of Chapter 8 of the Constitution of Poland.[a] As in almost all countries of continental Europe, the Polish judiciary operates within the framework of civil law.

The courts (sądy), designated by the Constitution as those exercising the administration of justice (wymiar sprawiedliwości), are the bodies that review the vast majority of cases, with the exception of those specifically assigned to the two tribunals (trybunały). The courts are formally divided into common courts (sądy powszechne) which are the courts that have jurisdiction covering all matters other than those specifically assigned to other courts (and thus include civil, commercial, labour and social insurance law disputes as well as most criminal cases), administrative courts (sądy administracyjne), which review complaints challenging the legality of administrative proceedings and their outcomes, and the military courts (sądy wojskowe), which serve as criminal courts for the military. The Supreme Court is considered distinct from the common or military courts, in spite of its role as the court of last resort in all non-administrative cases;[1] at the same time, the Supreme Administrative Court is the top court for administrative matters. Everyone has a guaranteed right to appeal to a court of higher instance, but appeals and cassations to the apex courts are limited by law; therefore, only a fraction of cases may reach them.

There are currently two tribunals established by the Constitution, namely the Constitutional Tribunal (Trybunał Konstytucyjny) and the State Tribunal (Trybunał Stanu), which are separate from the rest of the judiciary. The former rules on the compliance of challenged statutes with the Constitution and is the only court in Poland empowered with striking down acts and regulations which it deems unconstitutional.[2] The State Tribunal has exclusive jurisdiction over indictments for crimes committed by the highest state officials, but it convenes very rarely.

Court judges in Poland are appointed by the president of Poland upon nomination by the National Council of the Judiciary (Krajowa Rada Sądownictwa), an auxiliary body established for this purpose by the Constitution, and generally serve until they reach the age of 65 or 70.[b] They are assisted or supplemented by various other judicial officials in the court, including court assessors, law clerks (asystent), registrars (referendarz) and lay judges (ławnik). Professionals such as bailiffs (komornik sądowy) and probation officers (kurator sądowy) act on the court's behalf to enforce judges' orders. In contrast to the court judges, the ones sitting in tribunals (with the exception of those sitting there ex officio) are elected by the Sejm with a simple majority of its deputies.

Several issues plague the Polish judiciary. The courts are widely seen to be too slow, and the trust in the court system is low among the general population. Changes to the judiciary carried out from 2015 by the ruling United Right coalition, ostensibly aimed at remedying these handicaps, caused much controversy and provoked an ongoing constitutional crisis.[3][4][5] The conservative government is generally accused, in Poland as well as internationally, of trying to take over the courts,[6] which created a conflict between judges appointed before the Law and Justice-led coalition made changes to the judiciary and their supporters and those appointed by the new rules. The disciplinary system, widely considered to be non-independent, has in particular drawn condemnation and led the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to order the suspension of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court and to impose a 1-million-per-day fine since Poland did not comply with the order. The Constitutional Tribunal, widely seen as captured by the Law and Justice party, has issued decisions aiming to thwart the application of the unfavourable rulings of the ECJ and the European Court of Human Rights by asserting they were issued outside the courts' competences and without regard to the Polish Constitution.

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  1. ^ Ławnik – Sędzia społeczny: informator (PDF) (in Polish). Warsaw: Ministry of Justice of Poland. 2018. ISBN 978-83-929646-8-1.
  2. ^ Skrzydło, Wiesław (2009). Konstytucja Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej : komentarz encyklopedyczny (in Polish). Warszawa: Wolters Kluwer Polska. p. 597. ISBN 978-83-7601-686-3. OCLC 698832464.
  3. ^ "Wymiar sprawiedliwości pod presją" (PDF). iustitia.pl. 3 March 2020. Archived from the original on 24 April 2020.
  4. ^ "Poland's clash over justice system leaves courts in chaos". financial times. 24 January 2020. Archived from the original on 25 April 2020.
  5. ^ "The reform of the justice system in Poland (the judiciary)" (PDF). anti-defarmation.pl. April 2018.
  6. ^ "Poland could be forced to leave EU by its judicial reforms, top court says". euronews.com. 18 December 2019. Archived from the original on 25 April 2020.