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. Poland's Chief Justice ruled the changes unconstitutional, but the government ignored the ruling.
In July 2016, however, further changes were made — which come into force on August 16 — allowing for rulings to be made a simple majority, with 11 judges being present. It also allowed for rulings on the constitutionality of a law to be made by only five judges.
POLAND: Justice Paralyzed: Polish President Signs New Constitutional Tribunal Bill https://t.co/lxC88hFgIF— Statewatch (@StatewatchEU) 15 August 2016
The most controversial provision is an article that introduces the so-called blocking mechanism: during a full bench debate, four judges may veto the ruling proposition, which would lead to a three-month adjournment. The veto may be repeated once more. Despite a court ruling that the new law is unconstitutional, the government has enacted the law.
Martin Wolny, advocate for the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in Warsaw told Sputnik:
"On August 11, the Constitutional Court delivered a judgement, which found most of the changes to the act unconstitutional."
Wolny says the controversial changes to the constitutional court will damage EU-Polish relations.
"Of course it will cause problems. In my opinion, the EU is the only body that may put pressure on Warsaw. This is the only possibility for Poland to stay in the circle of countries where the rule of law really matters," Wolny told Sputnik.
Both the Council of Europe and the European Commission have condemned the move and being anti-democratic. Finally, after months of negotiations, the Commission 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.