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    All rise! “Iustitia” is now in session

    Judgement without hearing the defendant, security that is preventive censorship, chatter and even signs of sympathy by the judge towards one of the parties. There is no shortage of such surprising situations, unacceptable in the courts of law-abiding countries, in trials regarding journalists of “Gazeta Polska.” After analyzing dozens of cases, one can see a rule – they occur all too often when the presiding judge is a member of “Iustitia” or signatories of purely political appeals, which have recently multiplied.

    Initially in a relatively subtle manner, over time, more and more overtly, now a part of the judicial community even rudely engages in a political dispute. Symbolic is the scene when a group of well-known judges hosted a birthday party of the Committee for Defense of Democracy and applauded Donald Tusk’s speech.


    Because of this involvement, more and more ridiculous situations are occurring. Journalists of “Gazeta Polska” and other media of “Strefa Wolnego Słowa” (English: the Free Speech Zone), who repeatedly criticized the way the judges’ association “Iustitia” operates, rely on the adjudications of “Iustitia” members when there is a dispute with opposition politicians or their sympathizers, who are supported by the “Iustitia” association. The consequences are quite obvious…


    Risk of random case allocation


    There are about 10,000 judges in Poland, and “Iustitia” boasts that it has more than three and a half thousand members. The probability, therefore, that a judge with an “Iustitia” card will be allocated to the given case is considerable.


    When Piotr Nisztor published a series of articles about the Polish Football Association, former president Zbigniew Boniek not only filed a lawsuit in the Warsaw District Court for protection of personal rights but also demanded the blockade of further publications. Judge Rafał Wagner, after a closed-door hearing, acceded to the request. Nisztor got a one-year ban on writing about Boniek! There was a scandal, and a wave of criticism fell on the judge and the former footballer, as the adjudication was perceived as preventive censorship. Although Boniek withdrew from it, not from the lawsuit. Eventually, Judge Wagner ordered Nisztor to apologize to Boniek. Not legally binding.


    As of recently, judges are required to submit declarations of affiliation (current and past) with political parties, trade unions, and associations. These are public. Wagner also submitted such – we learn from it that he has been a member of “Iustitia” for more than a dozen years. 


    Currently, the case file is in the Court of Appeal in Warsaw, with Judge Joanna Wiśniewska-Sadomska as the presiding judge. It is not clear from her statement whether she is a member of Iustitia, because she stopped at saying that she does not belong to an organization whose “goals or activities are incompatible” with the principles of judicial independence and independence of judges.” For that, she certainly signed two appeals last year – in defence of Igor Tuleja and with a call for the execution of CJEU rulings. 


    She is the judge who issued the shocking ruling that prevented Barbara Engelking and Jan Grabowski from having to apologize for the contents of the book “Dalej jest noc” (English: “Night without End”).


    The judge’s chit-chat with Kramek


    Scandal – this is the only way to call the course of the lawsuit that Bartosz Kramek, husband of Ludmiła Kozłowska, chairman of the board of the Open Dialog Foundation, brought against “Gazeta Polska.” This time it was about a satirical cover on which Kramek was shown wearing a German uniform. However, the merit of the dispute was set aside due to the behaviour of Judge Tomasz Jaskłowski of the Warsaw District Court. He first gave a judgement without hearing the defendant’s arguments. The judgment was reversed, and while the case was being remanded, he indulged the peculiar comments. The portal revealed a transcript of the hearing. 


    Two quotes: 

    “In my opinion, witnesses are not needed for anything. Listening to the parties is not really necessary either.”  

    “I can give a judgment today. I don’t care.” 


    And then there’s the exchange between the judge and the plaintiff:

    Jaskłowski: Sir, yes, in general, I am a little uncomfortable to appear in this case, because you acted in my defence, and now I am judging you, well, a little strange. Well, I will do it. I mean not in my personal, but, but kind of…

    Kramek: The independence of the judiciary in general. 

    Jaskłowski: Well, yes, exactly. 


    In this situation, it was difficult to expect any other judgement than a favourable one for Kramek. And that’s exactly what it was. 


    In the Court of Appeal in Warsaw, Judge Edyta Jefimko became the presiding judge. She was among those who a year ago signed on to the call for CJEU rulings, distributed by “Iustitia.” 


    And the judgement of the lower court was affirmed. 


    Does freedom of speech depend on the surname? 


    Satirical cover ‘condemned’ for violation of personal rights. What about the use of the epithet ‘fascist’ against someone? On common sense, the second is more reprehensible. The author of this term was Tomasz Lis, and it was said against “Gazeta Polska.” Therefore, the then editor-in-chief of “Newsweek” was accused of defamation. 


    The case was pending in the Criminal Division of the District Court for Warsaw Mokotów. Unsurprisingly, Judge Edyta Snastin-Jurkun issued a decision to discontinue the proceedings, ruling that Lis’ words were an opinion within the framework of freedom of speech. 


    We caught a glimpse of her statement: 

    “(…) I have been a member of the Association of Polish Judges “Iustitia” since July 1, 2008,” she wrote. 


    Although the judgement was appealed, it was denied last week by Judge Katarzyna Wróblewska. 


    Not only in Warsaw


    Not all cases were resolved in Warsaw courts. MP Borys Budka (at one time the Chairman of Civic Platform) felt offended by the cover of “Gazeta Polska” referring to the irresponsible behaviour of some politicians and celebrities during the coronavirus pandemic. He filed a lawsuit in the District Court in Gliwice, demanding an apology and PLN 10,000 for the ‘Wielka Orkiestra Świątecznej Pomocy’ (English: Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity) foundation. The presiding judge was Barbara Przybylska – a member of “Iustitia” for more than a decade, and a signatory to the aforementioned summons on the CJEU rulings. 


    After an unsuccessful attempt at mediation, the trial got underway, which did not last very long, and the course of the hearing aroused much controversy. There was a lack of analysis of the evidence, and some of the judge’s statements suggested that she was unfamiliar with current media realities. According to Tomasz Sakiewicz, this showed “either complete ignorance or very bad will.” 


    What was the judgement? Judge Przybylska, a longtime member of “Iustitia,” acknowledged the arguments of the Civic Platform politician.

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