DUBLIN (Reuters) - An Irish High Court judge has referred a Polish extradition case to Europe’s top court over concerns that recent judicial reforms have been “so immense” that the rule of law in Poland has been systematically damaged.
The referral was made after Artur Celmer, arrested last May on the basis of a European Arrest Warrant, objected to his surrender on drug trafficking charges, saying the reforms in his native Poland undermined the possibility of him having a fair trial.
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has pushed to assume more control of the courts since taking power in 2015 in a standoff with the European Union’s executive, which launched an unprecedented action last December by calling on other member states to prepare to sanction Warsaw if it did not change tack.
The European Commission said the overhaul of courts that gives the PiS-controlled parliament de facto control over the selection of judges put the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers in Poland at serious risk.
In a judgement delivered in court on Monday, Judge Aileen Donnelly said the Commission’s findings were, by any measure, a shocking indictment of the status of the rule of law in a European country in the second decade of the 21st Century.
“This Court concludes, based upon the information before it, that the rule of law in Poland has been systematically damaged by the cumulative impact of all the legislative changes that have taken place over the last two years,” Judge Donnelly said.
“Respect for the rule of law is essential for mutual trust in the operation of the European arrest warrant.”
“The changes to the system are so immense that I am also satisfied that cherry-picking individual changes in the legislation is neither necessary nor helpful because it is the impact of the cumulative changes on the rule of law that is particularly concerning,” she added.
She said it was necessary for the High Court to request a ruling from the European Court of Justice before making a final determination on the extradition case.
The highly popular PiS government, which rejects accusations of undemocratic behaviour and has defended the reforms as being necessary because the courts are slow, inefficient and steeped in a communist era-mentality, said it regretted that an Irish court had delayed the punishment of a dangerous criminal.
“It is incomprehensible that general, abstract deliberations, projections and speculations become the basis of such an important decision as the handover of a criminal sought in the whole of Europe,” Deputy Justice Minister Marcin Warchol was quoted as saying on Tuesday by state agency PAP.
Warchol added that he hoped the decision would be overturned and that the decision was the result of the Irish court not understanding the reforms that are taking place in Poland.
Additional reporting by Marcin Goettig in Warsaw, Editing by William Maclean