The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) handed down a unanimous decision on November 23, 2023, in a case brought by former Polish President Lech Walesa against the Polish Government. The Court concluded that a Polish Appeals Court, the Chamber of Extraordinary Review and Public Affairs (CERPA), had violated Walesa’s right to an independent and impartial trial, breached “the principle of legal certainty,” and violated his right to respect for private and family life. The Court found that the CERPA “was not an ‘independent and impartial tribunal established by law’” and was often used by the state to “further its own political opinions and motives,” as the Prosecutor General of Poland and the Executive branch of government held considerable influence and authority over the judicial system. Additionally, the 2017 law that created the CERPA gave to the General Prosecutor “the unlimited power to contest virtually any final judicial decision” and extended the time limits for filing appeals, which enabled the Prosecutor to act retroactively and undermine the “requirement of foreseeability.”
A report in JURIST highlighted the ECtHR’s finding that “the extraordinary appeals process in Walesa’s case ‘could not be separated from its political background’” and had “’adversely affected Mr. Walesa’s private life to a significant degree.’” JURIST noted that Walesa is a “staunch supporter of democracy and left-wing values… [and] has been openly critical of the Polish government.” The decision in this case is one in a string of cases in which the ECHR has found the Polish Extraordinary Appeals Court to be lacking independence and impartiality, and as continuously violating defendants’ rights. The Court has required Poland to rectify the situation through legislative and other means, and ordered Poland to pay Walesa non-pecuniary damages in the amount of thirty-thousand euros.