The European Union has found that Poland violates EU rules on judicial independence and has ordered Poland to comply within one month.
In a finding published Wednesday, the European Court of Justice says Poland’s overhaul of the judiciary – which includes the creation of a new Supreme Court to replace a body weakened by the overhaul – violates the EU’s Lisbon Treaty on Court and judicial independence.
“Withdrawal of the offending measure within 15 days is required,” the Court said.
The ruling is a significant blow to Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, whose government has consistently supported the former communist country’s right to change its judges in its effort to make the judiciary more meritocratic.
Citing its right to change judges as one of its most important freedoms, the government argues that the current “system” of judges is corrupt.
Poland’s conservatives argue that the establishment of a new Supreme Court is long overdue and that Warsaw should be allowed to decide who will sit on the court.
In a statement the government said the ruling was “surprising, unexpected and surprising” and that the court’s decision had “illogical” reasoning.
It said the decision had no legal basis and should be rejected.
According to the decision from the Court of Justice, Szydlo acted “in defiance of judicial independence and was arbitrary” when she changed the order of appointments of judges.
The court ordered Poland to guarantee the presence of judges in various sectors of the judicial branch “on the basis of established and predictable rules of procedure and rules of due process in accordance with the principle of the presumption of innocence” or else abide by the decision.
The judgement is likely to fuel tension between the government and the European Union, which also blocked Polish ratification of the EU’s 2014-2020 budget last year because of the reforms. The Warsaw government is also being challenged in court over its plans to expand its police force and impose stringent conditions for refugee claims.
Since coming to power in October, Szydlo has implemented reforms across the judiciary sector.
In April, the Supreme Court removed the current head of the institution and a constitutional court ruling narrowly upheld Szydlo’s plan to overhaul the court.
The changes have sparked protests from the opposition, the church and public figures. A former president of the Supreme Court, Andrzej Duda, described the decision as an “assassination.”
Poland is also under investigation by the EU’s top executive body, the European Commission, which has asked Warsaw to reinstate the former head of the Supreme Court.