Judge Mazur: “In Poland the subjugation of the judiciary to the executive is a harsh reality”

On 6 September, Senator Roberto Rampi and Matteo Angioli met judge Dariusz Mazur from the district of Krawkow. What follows is the interview to judge Mazur by Matteo Angioli, broadcasted by Radio Radicale.

Matteo Angioli: Dariusz Mazur is a judge from the district of Krakow, in Poland, actively engaged against the governmental reform of the judiciary that has occurred in this country since 2015. Five years later, things have changed. In what way?

Dariusz Mazur: Well, to be strict and correct we shouldn’t call it a “reform”, I would call it a “pseudo-reform” because the real aim of a reform should be the improvement of the efficiency of the court system, making it more transparent and effective. In Poland there are no changes aiming at that direction. All the changes in the Polish administration of justice are designed to make the judiciary system politically dependent. How was it achieved? Firstly, the Constitutional Tribunal was politically subordinated through several illegal unconstitutional changes; in fact, it was the hostile takeover of the Constitutional Tribunal by the ruling party. So, in Poland right now we have no effective Constitutional control of the legal acts. Secondly, the Public Prosecution Office was politically subordinated by merging the position of Minster of Justice and General Prosecutor, plus other changes which made the Public Prosecution Office completely politically dependent. Furthermore, the main guardian of the independence of the judiciary in Poland, according to the Constitution, namely the National Council of the Judiciary, was also politically subordinated by moving the power of elections of most of the members of the National Council of Judiciary from the judicial self-governing body to Parliament, where one party holds the absolute majority. Then, two new chambers were created in the Supreme Court where all members are elected by the politicized National Council of the Judiciary. So, now we have a situation in which all the institutional guarantees of independence of the judiciary have been dismantled. They are politically subordinated and there are possibilities to put pressure on judges, either by instigating ungrounded disciplinary or criminal proceeding against the judge or through administrative pressure by changing the place of work of the judge, transferring the judge to another court division, depriving the judge of the good clerk help and things like that. So, all in all, there were a lot of factors at play over the last five years that have produced a chilling effect upon judges. These are the conditions in which polish judges have to work today. According to some predictions, the next step is going to be the so called “flattering the structure of courts”. I don’t want to dig into detail, but now we have three levels of the ordinary courts and the government wants to transfer it in two levels of ordinary courts. We suppose and we are convinced that the real aim and objective of the next step of this “reform” is to replace some presidents of court departments with someone absolutely politically loyal. For example, to kick some judges out of their home city in order to deprive them of their natural background. All of this is designed to achieve political subordination of the judiciary.

MA: Four years ago, I met Judge Rzeplinski the last independent President of the Constitutional Tribunal of Poland and he said that the “reform” was going to turn the Constitutional Tribunal into a Kazak-style tribunal. Was he correct? Did the situation evolve the way he predicted?

DM: Unfortunately, he was absolutely right. His prediction was correct. It’s a sad reality. It’s true that the Polish Constitutional Tribunal was transformed from being the effective guardian of the Constitution, into one of the main tools of political subordination of other bodies of legal protection including common courts and the Supreme Court. Today the Constitutional Tribunal in Poland is just the façade of the independent Constitutional Court, which is acting hand in hand with the political majority in Parliament to bring about a system that will be based on absolute mono power of a single political party or even a single man.

MA: What is the role of the European Union (EU) in respect of what has occurred and still occurs to the judiciary in Poland?

DM: The EU has a big potential in this respect, but my perception is that they were not prepared for the situation in which one of the Member State wants to turn from the democratic system into an authoritarian system. The reaction from EU authorities was too late and too weak. It has some power to influence the situation, for example the assassination of Polish Supreme Court which was going to be achieved by lowering the retirement age of the judges of Polish Supreme Court which would kick out one third of the members of Polish Supreme Court, was hampered by the interim measure applied by the Court of Justice of the EU. As a matter of fact, I think it was the only time in which this pseudo-reform in Poland was stopped, at least for a while. I hope that the EU will be equally effective in tackling the situation by opening an infringement procedure concerning both the disciplinary proceedings against judges and the so called “muzzle law”, or “reform”, at large.

MA: What do you make of the information environment here in Poland?

DM: Currently, we don’t have something that we could call independent public media. We have governmental propaganda in that media and we have very strange actions, for example in 2017 we had the famous billboard campaign. That year, thousands of big billboards were hanged all across Poland which were describing real, alleged or imaginary misbehavior of judges and the judges were described as a privileged cast, something that we should get rid of, that should be changed. One of my colleagues commented very accurately that the situation in which one the branches of the State power pays a negative PR campaign against another branch of the same country is so peculiar that even Monty Payton or George Orwell couldn’t come up with that. That comment was appropriate. It was unimaginable indeed to have such a situation in a democratic country, but unfortunately this is what is going on in Poland.

MA: You were the coordinator of the Krakow division on international criminal matters, you also lectured at the International School of the Judiciary and Public Prosecution, you were a legal expert of the European Judicial Network where you lectured on international cooperation in criminal matters, protection of human rights, and asylum and immigration matters. You no longer hold these positions because of your views and activity against the “reform”. How did it happen and what do you think your future is going to be like, given that you were also one of the signatories of a letter addressed to the government which was meant to protect the rule of law?

DM: I am the spokesperson of the association of judges Themis”, which is the second largest association of judges in Poland. I am quite active in the independent media, where I criticize this pseudo-reform which is designed to politically subordinate the judiciary. What I face is a different kind of administrative and disciplinary repressions, so when I was stripped of the position of Coordinator of the International Cooperation and Criminal Matters, when I was in fact removed as a lecturer at the National School of Judiciary and Public Prosecution and when I was banned to give lectures in the European Judicial Training Networks, there was no ground given by the President of my court, but the fact is that the President of my Court has been appointed at the beginning of 2018 by our current Minister of Justice, who tries to introduce all of this changes. I am absolutely convinced that these actions against me, depriving me of different positions, it is a kind of legal harassment, a kind of reprisal for my activity. Last but not least, I’m also facing explanatory proceedings for criticizing in the independent media the policy of the Ministry of Justice which in my view fosters corruption among the judiciary, and proper disciplinary proceedings for hanging up a poster in a court with demands of judicial associations. Both disciplinary actions are conducted by politically dependent central disciplinary commissioners appointed by the Minister of Justice. I’m also pretty aware that both cases will end up in the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, which is a real kangaroo court with the power to remove me from the judicial profession. However, I will remain active; I think it’s the duty of every Polish judge to stop this complete madness that is happening in the field of Polish Judiciary.

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