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Constitutional Tribunal: the hunting law provisions on disciplinary proceedings unconstitutional

The Constitutional Tribunal held that certain provisions of the hunting law governing disciplinary proceedings are contrary to the Constitution. The Tribunal examined the regulations that prevent a member of the Polish Hunting Association from seeking judicial review of a disciplinary board’s decision other than the termination of the membership.

According to the CT, the right to ask for judicial review must be available in all cases, save those where misconduct and the ensuing penalty concern exclusively internal matters of the organisation.

The case was heard at the motion of the Human Rights Defender represented by Mirosław Wróblewski, Head of the Group for Constitutional and International Law at the HRD Office. The HRD position has been endorsed in its entirety by the Prosecutor General.

In the opinion of the Tribunal, the PHA was legally obliged to exercise disciplinary jurisdiction over its members and this function of the organisation is not its internal matter. Therefore, the basic elements of disciplinary proceedings such as the concept of disciplinary misconduct, the list of disciplinary sanctions and general principles of the procedure should be governed by a statute.

“It is a key judgment that will result in a comprehensive reform of the disciplinary jurisdiction, a matter affecting thousands of people in Poland”, comments Dr. Adam Bodnar, Deputy President of the Board, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights.

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights submitted an amicus curiae brief in the proceedings before the CT. The brief included, among other things, statistics on the operation of hunting circuit courts and the Main Hunting Court. According to the collected data, in 2011 hunting circuit courts received 235 cases, out of which they heard 187 cases against 213 respondents. Also, in more than 50 per cent of the cases decided by hunting courts in first instance, the bodies applied a penalty of suspension of PHA membership. “This penalty, imposed for the term between six months and three years, is a severe sanction, practically equal to deprivation of membership”, says Dr. Bodnar.

According to the HFHR, the currently applicable regulations of the hunting law fail to comply with not only the constitutional standards listed in the HRD’s motion but also those present in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

“The dominant position in the ECtHR case law is that to comply with Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, a state may regulate the issue of disciplinary jurisdiction in two alternative ways”, explains Piotr Kubaszewski, coordinator of the HFHR programme Standards of a Fair Trial in Disciplinary Proceedings. States may either make sure that internal bodies exercising disciplinary jurisdiction have all the features of a court under Article 6 of the Convention, or subject the rulings of such bodies to unrestricted judicial review.

The HFHR’s amicus curiae brief presented to the Constitutional Tribunal was drafted by lawyers with the “Standards of a Fair Trial in Disciplinary Proceedings” programme. The programme was launched on 1 May 2011 as part of the 6th edition of “Citizen and the Law”, an initiative of the Institute of Public Affairs.

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