On 30 June 2023, the Supreme Court of Poland issued an interlocutory order (II CSKP 1518/22) in a case regarding the enforcement in Poland of a Dutch judgment.
The order provides fresh evidence of how the long-lasting tensions between Poland and EU with respect to rule of law and independence of judiciary in Poland is having an impact on the operation of EU instruments on judicial cooperation (for a recent analysis of those tensions, see M. Taborowski, P. Filipek, Mustard After Lunch? Polish ‘Muzzle Law” before the Court of Justice, on EULawLive).
The Order in a Nutshell
The order of the Supreme Court was given in the framework of proceedings brought against a ruling rendered by the Court of Appeal of Poznań in 2020 (I ACz 444/20, unreported). The latter ruling had dismissed, in turn, an appeal against a District Court decision regarding the enforceability in Poland of a judgment rendered by the Rechtbank Limburg, in the Netherlands.
According to the Supreme Court’s press release, the order was based on Article 1153(24) of the Polish Code of Civil Procedure. The latter provision deals with recognition and enforcement of judgments given in a Member State of the Union pursuant to EU legislation on judicial cooperation in civil matters.
Little is known, at this stage, about the merits of the case. Rather, the decision is interesting for the way in which the Supreme Court decided to approach the issue of the enforceability of the Dutch judgment in Poland. In fact, the Supreme Court decided to stay the proceeding and ask the Ministry of Justice of Poland and the Dutch Judiciary Council (Raad voor de Rechtspraak) for clarifications regarding the independence of Dutch judicial authorities, in general, and – specifically – the magistrate who handed down the judgment.
Reasons Given by the Supreme Court to Justify the Request for Clarification
The Supreme Court justified its request for clarification by referring to a number of EU primary law provisions. These include Article 2 TEU (“which entrusts the courts of the Member States of the EU with the task of ensuring the full application of EU law in all its Member States as well as the judicial protection of the subjective rights of individuals, and therefore having regard to the need to verify of its own motion (ex officio) the fulfilment of the requirements of effective judicial protection/effective remedy and the existence in the legislation of the Member State of guarantees of judicial independence”) and Article 47(2) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which provides the relevant standards for the assessment (“in conjunction with the second subparagraph of Article 19(1) of the TEU, given the imperative for the Supreme Court to follow the interpretation of these provisions made by, inter alia, the Court of Justice”).
The Court also stressed “the principle of consistency and the resulting need for the uniform application of EU law throughout the EU, that is in all Member States and therefore also on the territory of the Kingdom of the Netherlands”.
To corroborate its reasoning, the Supreme Court listed various rulings given by the Court of Justice of the European Union in proceedings against Poland, such as Commission v Poland, C-791/19 and Commission v Poland, C-204/21, together with rulings concerning the question of independence of judiciary in Poland (A.B. and others, C-824/18).
Nothing in the order or in the press release indicates that the Supreme Court had concerns regarding the independence of the particular Dutch court (or the particular Dutch magistrate) in question, or had reasons to believe that the particular proceedings which resulted in the Dutch judgement were conducted in breach of fundamental procedural guarantees.
The Dutch Judiciary Council (Raad voor de Rechtspraak) was asked to provide, inter alia, “copies of documents supporting and relating to the procedure for the appointment of X.Y. [anonymized name of the Dutch magistrate of the judge of the Rechtbank Limburg]”, in particular as regards:
(a) the procedure for his appointment, indicating the competent bodies involved in the appointment procedure, their composition and the functions performed by their members, including an indication of the extent, if any, of the influence of legislative or executive representatives on the judicial appointment, and a copy of the appointment document, a copy of the application for appointment and the opinions, if any, on the candidacy of X.Y. for the office of judge,
(b) information about the competition for the office of judge at the Rechtbank Limburg in which X.Y. participated as a candidate, the number of competing other candidates for the judicial post to which X.Y. was appointed at the Rechtbank Limburg, and the appeal procedure, if any, for candidates who were not recommended by the competent authorities and were not appointed, as well as the evaluation criteria, if any,
(c) assessments of Judge X.Y.’s performance during his judicial service (also possibly prior to his appointment as a judge at the Rechtbank Limburg, if he has held office at another court) and any judicial, investigative or disciplinary proceedings pending against him, or allegations concerning the assessment of his independence and attitude in the performance of his judicial duties and outside his judicial service (insofar as this remains relevant)
(d) any activities of Judge X.Y. of a political nature, including political party affiliation, irrespective of its duration and employment in the legislative or executive branches of government …
The Ministry of Justice of Poland was asked, instead, to provide information, among other things, on the Dutch rules that govern, in relation to the judiciary:
(a) the procedure for nomination to the office of judge considering the constitutional and statutory standard of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and resulting from the case law of the CJEU (…), including the standards in force in this respect in the period before 2019 and currently, with particular regard to the transparency of the criteria and the conduct of the procedure,
(b) the influence of the legislative or executive power on the procedure for the nomination of judges of common courts in the Netherlands and its scope, with particular reference to the Raad voor de Rechtspraak (Council for the Judiciary) and the formal binding nature of its recommendations (opinions) on candidates for the office of judge, and, possibly, disciplinary or other proceedings concerning the disciplinary or criminal liability of a judge,
(c) the avenue of appeal for candidates not appointed to the office of judge,
(d) the composition and method of election of members of the Raad voor de Rechtspraak …