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What reform of courts do we need?

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights has presented a policy paper on the justice reform to the President of Poland, describing proposals of changes that should be sought during an overhaul of the courts system. The paper is based on the Foundation’s long-term experience in the monitoring of legislative reforms in the area of justice as well as the insight obtained from individual cases related to the operation of the courts system brought to the Foundation by its clients.

In the HFHR’s assessment, the key aspect of any reform of the justice system is the guarantee that proposed changes fit within the constitutional framework set by such principles as the triple division of power, irremovability of judges and the right to a court. Furthermore, the Helsinki Foundation pointed to the potential of the Institute of Justice, a think tank subordinated to the Ministry of Justice.

Dr Barbara Grabowska-Moroz, HFHR’s legal expert, argues: “A reform of the justice system cannot be push through for the reform’s sake. Courts must be a tool used to ensure that rights and liberties of citizens are effectively protected.”

A law on court experts must be drafted to ensure that experts are properly selected, supervised and paid, which, in turn, will attract the best talent to work for courts.

Other proposals of the HFHR included:

  • Indigent clients (including detained persons) should be given appropriate access to legal aid; citizens should be more involved in the administration of justice within the constitutional limits (Article 182 of the Constitution).
  • The scope of courts’ obligations should be limited to the extent allowed by the Constitution and international law; the strengthening of measures for alternative dispute resolution, also by introducing a dedicated legal aid scheme, should reduce the caseload of courts.
  • The possibility of seconding judges should be limited because the current regulations in this area interfere with the efficiency of courts and weaken the safeguards of judicial independence.
  • The justice system reform should implement the ECtHR judgment issued in Rutkowski v. Poland, a decision dealing with the excessive length of court proceedings.

In a statement accompanying the veto against the newly proposed Supreme Court Act and an amendment to the National Judiciary Council Act, the President informed that he would soon present new legislative proposals of a reform of Polish courts. In August 2017, the Association of Polish Judges “Iustitia” sent to the President the proposals of amendments to the National Judiciary Council Act, Supreme Court Act and Courts Act.

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