‘Chaos’: Row over Polish lawmakers’ conviction reveals judicial muddle

WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish politicians and judges were at loggerheads on Monday over the case of two former government officials sentenced to prison, in what some lawyers said was an illustration of judicial disarray following the former nationalist government’s reforms.

A new pro-European government led by Donald Tusk has vowed to undo the changes, a move which would allow Poland to get access to billions of euros of European funds, but lawyers say unravelling the complex reforms will not be easy.

In 2015, weeks after the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party came to power, President Andrzej Duda issued a pardon to former Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski who had been found guilty of abuse of power while serving as head of an anti-corruption agency.

Lawyers questioned whether Duda was entitled to pardon him before an appeals court issued a final ruling. The Supreme Court said last year that the case should be reopened.

Kaminski and his deputy Maciej Wasik were sentenced in December to two years in prison. They have not yet been jailed.

According to many lawyers and the speaker of the lower house of parliament, the Sejm, the verdict meant they lost their parliamentary mandates, but both deny that and plan to attend the next sitting.

“I am an MP, only physical violence can prevent me from taking part in Wednesday’s votes in the Sejm,” Kaminski told private radio RMF.

The case also kindled a major conflict within the Supreme Court where judges are fighting over which chamber should have the final word on the issue.

Sejm Speaker Szymon Holownia has said there is “procedural chaos” in the judicial system.

Holownia wanted the appeal of his decision invalidating the mandates to be heard by the Labour Law Chamber while Kaminski and Wasik said it should be the Chamber of Extraordinary Control, which ruled on the issue last week.

The latter is a chamber created under the former government and manned by judges appointed under rules that critics and European bodies have said fail to meet rule-of-law standards.

“This is a six-dimensional multiverse of a chaos situation, but the panel of ‘old’ judges from the ‘old’ chamber appears unfazed by this and will hear the case next week,” Jakub Jaraczewski, Research Coordinator at Democracy Reporting International, wrote on the social media platform X.

“Legal certainty in Poland, already a victim of the rule of law crisis, takes another hit.”

(Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Toby Chopra)