In December 2015, the Polish Government added five "politically friendly" judges to the country's Constitutional Tribunal, in a move seen by critics as making it easier to push through legislation with less opposition.
The amendment meant that the tribunal would need a two-thirds majority to take a decision on constitutional matters instead of a simple majority. The minimum number of judges needed to make a decision was also raised from nine to 13, making it more difficult to convene a quorum.
The changes stated that there should be a six-month period before the tribunal can examine a case, rather than two weeks, which critics say allows the government to pass legislation that will go unchallenged for months.
However, Chief Justice Andrzej Rzeplinski ruled that many sections of the law passed in December 2015 were "non-compliant with the Polish Constitution. [The law] prevents the honest and proper functioning of the… Constitutional Court, by interfering in its independence and separation from other powers, thus violating the principles of the rule of law."
However, the government in Warsaw said it would ignore the ruling, refusing to publish it. Under the Polish constitution a ruling does not become final until officially published.
Condemnations and Sanctions
Both the Council of Europe and the European Commission have condemned the move and being anti-democratic.
Finally, after months of negotiations, the Commission has adopted a 'Rule of Law Recommendation' on the current situation in Poland, setting out the Commission's concerns around the functioning of the Constitutional Tribunal, and recommending concretely how these concerns can be addressed.
In a statement it said:
"The Commission believes that there is a systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland. The fact that the Constitutional Tribunal is prevented from fully ensuring an effective constitutional review adversely affects its integrity, stability and proper functioning, which is one of the essential safeguards of the rule of law in Poland. Where a constitutional justice system has been established, its effectiveness is a key component of the rule of law."
The Commission has now given Warsaw three months to change its position or face sanctions which could mean losing its voting rights in the EU institutions, marking a new low in EU-Polish relations.