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Prime Minister urged to confront Polish President about attacks on rule of law

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Victoria University of Wellington law lecturer Dr Marcin Betkier has written to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urging her to ask hard questions about the actions of Poland’s far-right government when Polish President Andrzej Duda visits New Zealand next week.

Dr Betkier, who is originally from Poland, says that the country is in the midst of a deep crisis in the rule of law, for which President Duda bears large responsibility. He asks the Prime Minister to address this issue during President Duda’s visit, saying that New Zealand can contribute to international ‘soft pressure’ that may help Poland turn back to democracy.

“Since 2015, when the current far-right government took power, the Polish justice system has been systematically dismantled,” he says. “Piece by piece, it has been bought under the control of the ruling party, which has effectively destroyed several key institutions of Polish democracy.”

“The government has ‘reformed’ the body responsible for ensuring laws align with the Polish Constitution to seize greater power. Judges presiding over cases are chosen from amongst newly appointed party loyalists. This allows the government to introduce new laws without constraint or regard for the constitution.

“President Duda’s ruling party is currently undertaking a similar ‘reform’ of the Supreme Court. It has decreased the mandatory retirement age for its judges from 70 to 65, which forces 27 of 72 judges to retire–including the Chief Justice, who is only half way through her constitutionally defined term of office. The ruling party will strongly influence who is appointed to vacant positions,” he says.

“The public prosecutor’s office, which used to be independent, is now used to harass and exert pressure on judges whose decisions are not in line with the interests of the ruling party. This is accompanied by a smear campaign against these judges by publicly owned media.”

Dr Betkier says these are just some of many changes aimed at subjugating the judiciary and undermining the rule of law.

In his letter to the Prime Minister, Dr Betkier writes that the problems created by the Polish government are well known internationally, and have been the subject of scathing criticism from the European Union, among others. He says representatives of the Polish government are being asked hard questions across the Western world and it is crucial that these questions continue to be asked, “even in the farthest (from Poland) parts of the world”.

“I believe that true friendship, which was born on the slopes of Monte Cassino (where my great uncle fought alongside New Zealand soldiers), demands asking these questions, and I hope that you are able to accommodate them within diplomatic protocol,” he writes.