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Will Minister of Justice be able to access court files?

An amendment to the Courts Act has been presented for the President’s signature. The law introduces provisions that enable the Minister of Justice to process and use personal and sensitive data recorded in court files. The new regulation has been challenged, among others, by judges and the Inspector General for the Protection of Personal Data.. The HFHR has called the President to apply for the constitutional review of the law.

“In our opinion, the power to collect, use and process personal data of litigants, given to the Minister of Justice, rises considerable doubts regarding its constitutionality”, says Michał Szwast, a lawyer working with HFHR.

The controversial provision enables the Minister of Justice to access and use personal data of millions of litigants appearing in Polish courts of general jurisdiction each year. Access is to be obtained via an IT system administered by the Ministry of Justice. According to the HFHR, such an interference with the right to privacy is unnecessary. Thus, none of the public interest exemptions to the right to privacy may be invoked in support of such interference.

Moreover, the Foundation noted the fact that the provisions are likely to contravene the principle of division and balance of powers and that of distinctiveness and independence of the judiciary. “Under the new law that gives the Minister of Justice access to case files, the Minister may interfere with the administration of justice, which is a matter within the exclusive remit of the courts”, explains Michał Szwast.

The Helsinki Foundation called the President of the Republic of Poland to consider applying for the constitutional review of the Act before signing it into law. Last week, the National Council of Judiciary sent a similar request to the President. The President is required to take the decision by 16 March.

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