Poland’s constitutional crisis has no end in sight

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Last November a constitutional crisis was triggered in Poland after the new government led by the right-wing Law and Justice party annulled five appointments to the country’s powerful constitutional tribunal made by the previous government. Aleks Szczerbiak provides an update on recent developments and suggests that, with neither the government or its opponents showing any sign of backing down, a solution is unlikely to be imminent.

Poland’s constitutional crisis began last November when, immediately after taking office, the new government led by the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party decided to annul the appointment of five judges elected by the previous parliament to Poland’s 15-member constitutional tribunal to replace those whose terms of office were due to expire that month and in December. The tribunal is a powerful body that rules on the constitutionality of laws. Earlier these new judges were unable to assume their posts because Law and Justice-backed President Andrzej Duda did not accept their oaths of office. The move met with widespread criticism from most of the opposition and legal establishment, who accused the government of violating judicial independence. The tribunal’s critics, however, see it as a highly politicised body that struck down key elements of the previous Law and Justice-led government’s legislative programme. They placed the blame for the crisis squarely on the outgoing government, led by the centrist Civic Platform (PO) party which, they argued, tried to appoint five judges illegally just before the October parliamentary election to pack the tribunal with opponents of Law and Justice.

However, the tribunal itself ruled that while the appointment of the two judges replacing those whose terms of office expired in December was unconstitutional the other three were nominated legally. Government supporters, in turn, argued that the tribunal did not have the right to make judgments about the constitutionality of parliamentary appointments, and Mr Duda swore in five judges nominated by the new parliament instead. Tribunal president Andrzej Rzepliński responded by declaring that the five would not participate in its work, although he subsequently allowed two of them to assume their duties.

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