(Corrects to ‘European rights court’, not ‘EU court’ in headline)
WARSAW (Reuters) -The Polish justice minister infringed on the rights of two court officials when he dismissed them without letting them appeal, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on Tuesday, dealing a blow to the government’s judicial reforms.
The Justice Ministry said the ruling was politically motivated and did not involve human rights.
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has introduced a series of judiciary reforms that critics, including the European Union’s executive, say may harm the independence of the courts.
Those included legislation giving the justice minister the power to hire and fire the heads of courts of general jurisdiction. These judges coordinate the court’s works and execute administrative duties.
Under the new rules, judges Mariusz Broda and Alina Bojara were removed from their posts as vice-presidents of the Kielce Regional Court before their six-year term of office ended without being given an explanation or the possibility to appeal.
“As the premature termination of the applicants’ term of office as court vice-presidents had not been examined either by an ordinary court or by another body exercising judicial duties, the respondent State had infringed the very essence of the applicants’ right of access to a court,” the ECHR said.
It ruled that Poland should pay each applicant 20,000 euros in damages. Both sides have three months to appeal.
The justice ministry said in a statement that the applicants were not deprived of their judicial functions.
“The court absurdly considered that holding the administrative function of vice-president of a court … is a human right protected under the Convention,” it said. “The Justice Ministry regrets that the court took a politically motivated decision against Poland.”
Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro fired more than 150 court presidents and vice-presidents over a six-month period in 2017 and 2018, according to Polish Judges Association Iustitia.
In May, the ECHR ruled that a Polish company had been denied its right to a proper hearing due to the illegal appointment of a Constitutional Court judge, opening the way for challenges to Poland’s top court.
(Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, additional reporting by Pawel Florkiewicz; editing by Alan Charlish, Angus MacSwan and Nick Macfie)