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HFHR’s negative assessment of amendments to the law proposed in relation to the preparations to EURO 2012

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights has made a critical assessment of the legislative process for the amendment of a number of laws needed to properly organise the European Football Championships EURO 2012.  

In particular, the HFHR has reservations regarding the course of the work done so far – the amendments are being drafted in great haste. The bill was submitted to the Sejm on 6 June and the first reading was held only two days later. It received criticism from the Criminal Law Codification Commission, the National Council of Judiciary and the Bureau of Research of the Chancellery of the Sejm, as well as from representatives of the Warsaw bar, courts, prosecutors and the Police.

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights is also critical of the changes proposed in the amendments. The most serious doubts arise over the introduction of the ‘virtual hearing’, a court hearing conducted via video-conference. This proposal is at variance with the primary rules of the criminal procedure, i.e., directness and the right to defence. ‘It must be pointed out that the European Court of Human Rights allows the possibility of using a video-conference, yet only in exceptional cases such as where there is a threat to the life of a suspect or witness, and on condition that specific safeguards are secured’, says Artur Piteryka, coordinator of the Programme of Monitoring that observes the legislative process in the justice system. The government’s proposed amendments are inconsistent with the need to effectively protect the suspect’s rights.

The new legislation also introduces new offences and modifies those already defined in Polish criminal law. For instance, according to the proposal, it would be illegal to prevent authorities from learning a person’s identification or to incite others to use offensive words. However, it is highly doubtful whether the quality of the proposed amendments conforms to the good quality requirements set out in the relevant rules for drafting legislation. This reservation acquires particular significance in the context of yesterday’s statement by the Minister of Justice: ‘since the Criminal Code was passed not all amendments made to this law have been given sufficient consideration prior to their adoption’.

Other doubts concern the proposal to modify the Police Act by enabling the use of ‘video surveillance of the premises’ in which detained persons are kept. In this respect particular doubts arise over the succinctness and selectiveness of the proposed changes as the new law fails to provide for appropriate safeguards concerning the storage, disclosure and security of the recordings.

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