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UN: Poland's New Judicial Law Undermines Independence of Judges

FILE - People take part in a street protest to show solidarity with judges facing increased political pressure from the country's right-wing government, in Warsaw, Poland, Dec. 1, 2019.

The U.N. Human Rights Office warns that Poland’s new law, which makes it easier to fire judges, risks further undermining the independence of the judiciary in that country. The law, which had been proposed by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party, was passed Friday by the country’s lower house of parliament.

U.N. officials say the law puts further constraints on the independence of judges by restricting their fundamental rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression.

U.N. Human Rights Office spokesperson Rupert Colville says judges should not be politicized and should not bring politics into the court. Nevertheless, he told VOA, just like everybody else, judges have a right to hold their own opinions and seek membership in associations of their choosing. He noted the new law seriously restricts these activities.

“Of course, the overall effect of that is really a very chilling effect on the judiciary. It is so restrictive that it may impact very much on their willingness to get involved in important and legitimate legal arguments and discussions,” he said.

Colville said the law also may prevent judges from fulfilling their legal obligations under European Union law and even from applying EU law properly. He added it also runs astray of international human rights law.

“According to the Human Rights Committee, for example, the requirement of independence in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights refers in particular to the procedure and qualifications for the appointment of judges, guarantees relating to their security of tenure until the mandatory retirement age will expire their term of office,” Colville said.

Poland was elected to the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council for a two-year term beginning 2020. As an incoming member, Colville said Poland is expected to set a high standard of compliance with international human rights law. He said it is expected to uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms around the world.

The new law now goes to the Senate, however, the upper house cannot block the legislation, only delay it.