Europe’s human rights court finds fault with Polish tribunal

U.S. Law Review

The European Court of Human Rights said Friday that Poland’s top court violated a local company’s right to fair trial because a judge on the review panel handling its case had been irregularly appointed to the tribunal.

Law experts in Poland and critics of the right-wing government have long argued that some of the judges of the Constitutional Tribunal were appointed in violation of the law and that their rulings should therefore be considered void.

The European court said the company was denied the right to be heard by a lawfully-appointed court because there were irregularities in the appointment of one of the panel’s judges, Mariusz Muszynski, to the tribunal. It said Poland’s parliament and President Andrzej Duda had no right to appoint Muszynski and some other judges to the tribunal.

Constitutional Tribunal head Julia Przylebska, a government loyalist, reacted by saying the European court “lawlessly interfered into the competence” of Poland’s parliament and president and that its ruling has no effect on Poland’s legal system.

Poland’s government appointed Przylebska, Muszynski and other loyalists to the tribunal in 2015, ignoring the fact that some of the positions had already been filled by the previous administration. The government’s bid to take political control of the tribunal and of the Supreme Court is a major point of friction with the European Union — to which Poland belongs — which says it’s a violation of democratic rules.

Government critics said Friday’s decision cast doubt on every ruling with the participation of judges appointed in that way — including a key, controversial decision that allowed a further tightening of Poland’s strict anti-abortion law and sparked mass protests in the country.

The grass-producing company turned to the European court saying its rights had been violated after Poland’s courts and the Constitutional Tribunal refused it the full compensation it had sought for damage caused by wild boars.

The European court ordered Poland to pay the company the rough equivalent of 3,400 euros ($4,100) for court costs but said the amount of compensation was the competence of Poland’s courts.

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