EU Justice Scoreboard: Failed “Reforms” in Poland

In mid-July, the European Commission published this year’s edition of the EU Justice Scoreboard 2020. It is a comparative and non-arbitrary source of data about the functioning, efficiency, and independence of the justice systems within the EU. The EU Justice Scoreboard enables assessment of the Law and Justice’s “reforms” of the judiciary and comparisons of Poland with the rest of the Member States.

In the light of the data collected by the European Commission, the ruling party has not been so far successful in reforming the justice system.

Longer Proceedings, Less Independence

In categories such as time needed to resolve various court cases and questions concerning the trust in courts and their independence from politicians Poland was listed at the bottom of the rankings.

Although controversial policies by the ruling party in the area of the justice system have been frequently justified by excessive length of court proceedings and low trust in the courts, the Scoreboard shows that none of these problems have been solved. In many areas the situation became much worse because of the PiS government.

In 2012, the average time needed to resolve civil, commercial, administrative and other cases in the 1st instance was 50 days. In 2016, it reached 85 days and it was 82 days in this year’s edition.

Moreover, the length of litigious civil and commercial cases increased drastically. While in 2012 it took, on average, 195 days, in 2017, the time needed to resolve such a case increased to 232 days and in the last edition it reached 273 days.

Also, when we take a look at the number of pending court cases (civil, commercial, administrative and other) – in 2012, there were 3.6 court cases per 100 Poles and this measure was 6.3 in the most recent edition of the Scoreboard. Poland and Hungary are the worst performing countries in the European Union in this category.

Regarding the trust citizens put in the justice system the results of the PiS government’s “reforms” are also rather poor. In the Eurobarometer survey published in the Scoreboard, only Hungarians and Slovaks have worse perception of the independence of the judiciary.

In the survey on courts’ independence conducted by the World Economic Forum among business executives Poland is one of the worst country in the EU after a major decline under the PiS government. While in the years 2010-12 the average score was 4.25 points it reached 2.66 points in 2018-19. The score is worse only in Hungary.

Real Costs of the Rule of Law Violations?

This year’s and future editions of the Scoreboard might have a bigger impact than the previous ones. It can become one of the sources of data for the new Rule of Law Mechanism announced by the Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The traditional dataset has been supplemented by qualitative data and information regarding the structural independence of the courts.

In the Scoreboard we can read that Poland is the only EU country in which vast majority of the Members of the Council of the Judiciary are selected by the parliament. Poland is also marked red when it comes to disciplinary proceedings against judges as the only country in which such are conducted by an investigator nominated by the Minister of Justice.

Apart from poor performance in the EU Justice Scoreboard, rule of law in Poland became once again the topic of the European Parliaments LIBE Committee report, which has been adopted on the 16th of July. The report describes, among other things, the changes in the judiciary, disciplinary proceedings against judges and the attempt to organize the presidential elections during the pandemic.

The report is going to be debated in the EP’s plenary session in September.

Poland’s position in the EU Justice Scoreboard, the most recent LIBE Committee report and the conclusions from the European Council, in which we can read both about the importance of the rule of law principles and potential conditionality with the next EU budget (point 21-23 of the conclusions from the 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21 July 2020), the consequences of the rule of law violations might be harsh.

It can lead not only to further damages of Poland’s image abroad, but also to financial losses regarding the new budget perspective.

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Piotr Olinski