Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

New Polish Parliament Stalls Judicial System


The Polish government is in a standoff with the European Union over human rights. EU officials are investigating whether new laws in Poland weaken judicial independence. The new government in Poland is outraged, accusing the EU of meddling. Among the many stuck in the middle, women seeking to have babies.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Warsaw.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Many judicial experts say it's become nearly impossible to protect civil liberties in Poland since the Law and Justice Party took control there last fall. The party, which won a solid parliamentary majority in national elections, has moved quickly to adopt laws that critics say weaken the power of the country's constitutional court. But Malgorzata Gosiewska, a senior MP of the ruling Law and Justice Party, says they were actually trying to protect the court from political interference.


MALGORZATA GOSIEWSKA: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: She accuses the constitutional court of siding with the Civic Platform party, which ran the previous Polish government. The new Parliament sought replacements for nominees selected by the rival party to fill five vacancies on the 15-seat court. Critics say the court's been paralyzed by a new mandate that at least 13 judges must be involved in every constitutional case. With only 10 members on the court at the moment, it can't rule on anything.

Last Tuesday, the embattled head of the Constitutional Tribunal, Andrzej Rzeplinski, tried to compromise.


ANDRZEJ RZEPLINSKI: (Foreign language spoken).

NELSON: Looking pale and tired, he agreed to throw out two of previous nominees for his court, which means the new government would fill those two vacancies. Rzeplinski told NPR the political crisis is impeding Polish justice.

RZEPLINSKI: Without those judges, we cannot work normally because there's no final decision about who can be a member of the court.

NELSON: Critics of the new law say they threaten a quarter-century of democracy in Poland. Adam Bodnar is the country's official ombudsman charged with protecting civil liberties.

ADAM BODNAR: I think this situation of the constitutional court is dreadful for human rights.

NELSON: He says those affected include Polish women undergoing in vitro fertilization. They are now subject to a new law requiring them to be married or have a partner in order to get pregnant by artificial means.

BODNAR: The problem is that there is a number of women who started procedure before this law was adopted. They have frozen their embryos, and they would like to continue.

NELSON: Bodnar says he would normally have gone to court to seek an exemption for the women, but with the courts stalled, the ombudsman says he has no idea how long it will take for these women to get legal relief.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Warsaw. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.