National Council of the Judiciary – constitutional organ safeguarding independence of courts and judges.
The organisational structure of the Country before 1989 lacked in institutions and legal mechanisms which would guarantee realization of the principle of judicial independence declared in the Constitution of 1952. The Constitution and acts oriented courts' activity on the protection of the then organisational structure of the Country. Constitutional regulations stipulating that judges are appointed and dismissed by the National Council upon the motion of the Minister of Justice were not conducive to the development of judicial and court independence. The choice of judges and creating the whole human resources policy in the judiciary were governed by these institutions.
Organisational transformations, which took place in 1989, triggered a completely new understanding of the role and position of administration of justice in a democratic state ruled by law. Judicial independence became indispensable for legitimization of the judiciary being a guarantor of human rights and freedoms.
Independence of the judiciary exceeds political sphere. It influences stability of the country, its economy, as well as fulfils other important social aims. Therefore, independence of courts and judges is not an aim for its own sake. It serves for achieving important aims of the society based on rules of justice. These arguments triggered the need for establishing a new body in Poland, namely the National Council of the Judiciary.
The concept of creating the National Council of the Judiciary was developed as a result of a political agreement reached during "round table" meeting, and provided for the creation of constitutional body consisting of representatives of all three powers – legislative, executive, and judiciary. The Council's concept followed experience of Western Europe countries.
In the Act of 7 April 1989 on the amendment to the Constitution it was adopted in Art. 60 that the appointment of judges is a prerogative of the President acting upon the motion of the National Council of the Judiciary.
The National Council of the Judiciary Act adopted on 20 December 1989 stipulated that the Council safeguards independence of judges and courts. Current organisational structure, scope of activities and work procedure of the Council are stipulated in the Act of 12 May 2011 on the National Council of the Judiciary and the Resolution of the National Judicial Council of 22 July 2011 regarding the regulation of the detailed procedure of the National Council of the Judiciary. The most important powers of the Council are:
adopting resolutions regarding applications to the Constitutional Tribunal to examine compliance with the Constitution of the Republic of Poland of normative acts within the scope concerning independence of courts and judges,
considering and evaluating candidacy for holding a judicial post and presenting to the President of the Republic of Poland applications for appointment of judges of the Supreme Court, Chief Administrative Court, common courts, provincial administrative courts and military courts,
applying to the Disciplinary Commissioner with requests for initiating disciplinary proceedings with respect to judges and appealing against judgments of disciplinary courts of lower instance,
considering applications for retirement of judges, expressing consent to continue to hold the post by judges who have attained 65 years of age,
considering applications of retired judges to return to judicial post,
appointment of the Disciplinary Commissioner of common courts,
expressing opinion on appointment and dismissal of presidents and deputy presidents of common courts and military courts,
carrying out inspections of the court or vetting of the work of a judge, whose individual case is subject to consideration by the Council.
The National Council of the Judiciary is a collective authority. The first composition of the National Council of the Judiciary was established at the session held on 23 February 1990. Stanisław Zimoch, judge of the then Provincial court in Łódź was appointed the Chairman of the National Council of the Judiciary.
The National Council of the Judiciary is composed of 25 members. The Council is composed of: the First President of the Supreme Court, President of the Chief Administrative Court, a person appointed by the President of the Republic of Poland, Minister of Justice, four sejm deputies, two senators, ten judges being representatives of common courts, two judges of the Supreme Court, two judges of administrative courts and a judge of the military court. Similarly to the majority of other European countries, the composition of the Polish National Council of the Judiciary is mixed, whereas judges constitute the majority. Such a composition of the Council gives an opportunity of a direct responsibility of country's political structures for the functioning of the judiciary and at the same time guarantees a proper extent of independence.