Poland’s court system is “teetering on the brink” as it deals with a record number of cases and suffers from hundreds of judicial positions being vacant, reports Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, a respected daily that specialises in legal affairs, citing new data from the justice ministry.
However, a spokesman for the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS) – the state body responsible for nominating judges – downplayed claims of a crisis, arguing that the report was based on misleading statistics.
According to Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, the latest ministerial data show that a total of 19 million cases were before district courts last year. When one adds the 1.2 million proceedings in regional courts and more than 153,000 in appelate courts, this made for a total of more than 20 million cases.
Piotr Mgłosiek, a judge at a Wrocław district court, described the figures as representing “a huge jump”. “It looks like we’re facing an inglorious record,” he said, as all previous estimates had suggested an annual total of 15-16 million cases.
These data, along with the fact that 804 judicial positions are currently vacant, show why courts are working more slowly and it is taking longer for rulings to be made, writes the newspaper.
The system is struggling to cope, said Krystian Markiewicz, a district court judge in Katowice and president of the Iustitia Polish Judges’ Association. “Whereas in 2015 I set first hearing dates three months in advance, this period is half as long again now.”
Małgorzata Stanek, a judge at the appellate court in Łódź, said that “we are working at full capacity. There is no way to adjudicate even faster without it having an effect on the quality of rulings.”
Maciej Mitera, press spokesman for the KRS and president of the central Warsaw district court, disagreed with these conclusions. “As we know, there are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics,” he said. “So you cannot tar all courts with the same brush and claim that the entire judiciary is on the verge of disaster.”
Mitera argued that his own court was functioning well and that most judges are hard-working, but noted that others should be less afraid to make decisions, and that some people “use the cover of [judicial] independence to shirk off work”, Dziennik Gazeta Prawna reports.
Improving the speed and efficiency of courts has been one of the main justifications given by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party for its controversial overhaul of the judicial system. Yet even before today’s report, the evidence suggested that, in fact, the average length of proceedings has increased since the change in government in 2015.
Last month, a deputy prime minister, Jarosław Gowin, admitted that the government’s judicial “changes have not translated into an improvement in the functioning of courts”, and that he would have “taken a different path” than the justice minister has.