Judicial Reforms in Poland – Context and Controversy

By Maciej Jóźwiak

After November 2015, when the right-wing party, Law and Justice (PiS), won the parliamentary elections and obtained majority in the Polish Parliament, a number of judicial reforms were commenced that stirred-up dramatic controversy in Poland and in Europe. The reforms covered the two key Polish judicial institutions – the Constitutional Tribunal and the Supreme Court. The Government also introduced changes in the law regarding state courts and prosecutors.

This play called “judicial reforms” started with an amendment which combined the roles of the General Prosecutor and the Minister of Justice. Currently these two positions are handled by one man. The amendment granted to a politician (the Ministry of Justice) the right to be involved in and to supervise all penal ongoing proceedings, either conducted by a prosecutor or before the court. This amendment restored a legal status of these positions changed in March 2010 by the previous government, established by the Civil Platform (PO).

The second act in the reform drama was the amendment to the Act on the Constitutional Tribunal. The reform itself was initiated by the previous government. On 8 October 2015, PO introduced a new law regulating the nomination procedure of the Constitutional Tribunal judges. Under this law the previously tenured Parliament was entitled to nominate two additional constitutional judges (two more than the standard three) for the next nine years. The Act, however, has been sent to the Constitutional Tribunal for a determination as to whether it is constitutional. In the meantime, the President of Poland, who won the election as the representative of PiS, refused to swear-in all five judges.

On 19 November 2015, PiS introduced a reparation Act which allowed the newly tenured Parliament to again nominate five constitutional judges, three already nominated by the previous Parliament and two new ones. Moreover, under this Act, the tenure of the President and the vice-President of the Constitutional Tribunal was terminated. The whole process of the introduction by the Parliament, the signing by the President and the entering into force of the reparation Act took no longer then one week. Under the new reparation Act, five new judges were nominated on 2 December and four of them were sworn-in by the President at night, between 2 and 3 December 2016.

On 3 December, the Constitutional Tribunal issued a judgment concerning the amendment Act introduced by PO. In its judgment, the Tribunal decided that three of the nominees were appointed properly but the appointment of the other two was unconstitutional. The government refused to publish this judgment. On 9 of December 2016, the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the provisions of the reparation Act regarding nomination of the three already appointed judges and the termination of the tenure of the President and vice-President of the Tribunal were unconstitutional. The government refused to publish this judgment as well.

After 9 of December 2016 two additional amendments acts were introduced by PiS. Both were analyzed by the Tribunal and neither was declared constitutional. Neither judgment of the Constitutional Tribunal regarding these amendments was published by the government.

The second act of the reforms focused on the Supreme Court and the National Judicial Council. The amendment to the Act on the Supreme Court was introduced by PiS, together with an amendment to the Act of the National Judicial Council and the Act of the System for the State Courts.

The two key changes at the Supreme Court concerned: (i) a default retirement of all the Supreme Court judges, with the exclusion of those who are indicated by the Minister of Justice, and (ii) an appointment of a new chamber in the Supreme Court, dedicated to hearing disciplinary actions against judges.

The amendment of the law concerning the National Judicial Council focused on the politicians having more influence on this judicial body by establishing the new chamber of the Council, made up of Parliament’s representatives. This new chamber would have the right to veto all decisions taken by the “old chamber,” where inter alia sit judges as well as representatives of government and the representative of the president, among others.

And finally, we in the audience saw the Act of the System for the State Courts, which contained the following changes: (i) the power of the Ministry of Justice to call off and nominate new presidents of the state courts was established; (ii) cases were allocated between the judges based on their “weight” which is established by the Ministry of Justice; (iii) a case would have to be examined by the same judge from beginning to end; and (iv) the Act distinguished the age of retirement between male and female judges.

The proposals described herein have raised crucial constitutional doubts and even inspired a series of street protests by Polish citizens in many cities all over Poland.

The President of Poland decided to veto two of those acts (the Act of the Supreme Court and the Act of the National Judicial Council) and has signed the third one. The Act of the System for the State Courts comes into force 14 days after being published.

The drama, however, continues. The President has announced that he will prepare and present his own proposal of the amendments to the Act on the Supreme Court and the National Judicial Council within a couple of months. Thus, we are still waiting for an epilogue.

These reforms were introduced to improve the judicial system in Poland. As it was presented, the new law was intended to speed up proceedings, making the system more transparent and understandable for citizens. Instead, however, the reforms have made the judicial system more dependent upon politicians.

In times where certainty of the independent judicial system is one of the most important factors for business development, the situation in Poland is being viewed by some with worry. To minimize the risk of adverse influence of these recent legislative changes on business, many entrepreneurs are opting to include arbitration clauses in their contracts. Despite some formal requirements for arbitration clauses under the Polish law, arbitration and other ADR methods may offer just the calming influence needed to counter the dramatic recent changes in the Polish judicial system.

Maciej Jóźwiak is an attorney at law on the dispute resolution team at Wierzbowski Eversheds Sutherland. He can be reached at maciej.jozwiak@eversheds-sutherland.pl

EU Court Backs Mandatory Mediation Referral

By Ugonna Kanu

The Court of Justice of the European Union, which rules on cases between members of the European Union often involving treaties, issued a significant opinion on compulsory consumer ADR earlier this year.

Advocate General Henrik Saugmandsgaard Øe, who prepared the ruling, supported an Italian national law that compels consumers to mediate as a precondition for bringing legal proceedings in the Italian courts.

At the same time, the opinion suggests that parties may determine their own fate without a lawyer, overruling an Italian law requiring that a litigant use an attorney to mediate their case.

The EU Court of Justice opinion was based on a request for a preliminary ruling from the District Court in Verona, Italy.  Menini v. Banco Popolare – Società Cooperativa, Case C-75/16 (February 16, 2017)(Available at http://bit.ly/2usImgu).

In the case, a dispute arose between a bank and two clients concerning the performance of a mortgage contract. The bank obtained a court order against the consumers to pay the required sum.

The consumers appealed the order to the Verona district court and sought to have its provisional enforcement suspended.  The district court found that the parties making the appeal must, in order for the appeal to be admissible, use a mediation procedure in accordance with the national law.

But questions arose whether the national law that forces consumers to mediate as a pre-condition to judicial proceedings; mandates legal representation of consumers in a mediation, or penalizes a party from withdrawing from a mediation without valid reason, was incompatible with the EU consumer ADR directives.

The District Court decided to stay its proceedings and to refer the questions to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling.

The EU court mostly backed the mediation requirements.

According to the 2013 EU directives, the opinion noted, consumer ADR mechanisms are voluntary.  But they do not preclude “any national rules making the participation of [parties] in such procedures mandatory or subject to incentives or sanctions or making their outcome binding on parties, provided that such legislation does not prevent the parties from exercising their right of access to the judicial system.” Recital No. 49, Directive 2013/11/EU  of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2013 on alternative dispute resolution for consumer disputes and amending Regulation (EC) No. 2006/2004 and Directive 2009/22/EC)(available at http://bit.ly/2jv7LjA).

Accordingly, Advocate General Saugmandsgaard, in his ruling, held on one hand, that the Italian law was compatible with the EU directives to the extent it does not deny the consumers access to the judiciary and that the limitation period does not expire during such mediation process.

On the other hand, however, the ruling precludes national legislation which mandates consumers to be assisted by lawyers, or penalizes consumers who withdraw from the mediation process without valid grounds (unless the concept of “valid grounds” includes the party simply being dissatisfied with the ADR procedure).

The author is an attorney in Nigeria who has just completed her L.L.M. in Dispute Resolution at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law.  She is a CPR Institute 2017 summer intern.

Brexit and ADR, Untangling the Complexities

The United Kingdom’s recent referendum vote to leave the European Union (EU) is just a few weeks old, and dealmakers are rightfully concerned about its ramifications. The falling pound, the most immediate consequence, is just one of many factors that could affect pending deals with British companies. Many parties entered into contracts with UK-based companies with certain assumptions based upon the country’s membership in the EU. Now, with the UK’s situation uncertain, the lawyers are lining up to figure out next steps.

On July 18, CPR’s arbitration committee convened a panel on the topic of Brexit’s impact on cross-border arbitration and litigation involving the UK, hopefully clearing up some of the mystery. The panel was moderated by Jean-Claude Najar (France) of Lazareff Le Bars, and featured Tim Hardy (UK) of CMS Cameron McKenna LLP, Vanessa Alarcon Duvanel (Switzerland) of White & Case LLP, and Clifford J. Hendel (Spain) of Araoz & Rueda Abogados, S.L.P.

As explained by Mr. Hardy, Brexit’s main immediate impact on cross border litigation in the EU is the uncertainty as to what will happen post-exit to the existing unified regime for dispute resolution applying to all Member States. Since 1973, the UK has been required to adopt unifying arrangements to avoid duplicate litigation in different States through a series of rules intended to determine that the court of only one State can have jurisdiction and that the decision of that court should be respected by all other courts of Member States. Initially, the incorporation of these reciprocal arrangements into the legal framework of Member States was undertaken through a  series of treaties – each requiring each State to approve, ratify and implement each Treaty.  As this was extremely cumbersome and slow, subsequently, EU Regulations were implemented directly applying the rules into the law of each member state.

To exit the EU the UK will have to repeal the European Communities Act which will automatically repeal all Regulations but it will not repeal all treaties. Accordingly, a complex situation could develop where arguably some treaties will survive and may be applicable and relevant to determining parties’ positions if disputes arise. “One would hope,” said Mr. Hardy, “that the legislature will do what it can to avoid this mess. But at the moment, we don’t know what steps will be taken to address and tidy it up.”

As for the practice of international arbitration in the UK or London, Mr. Hendel explained, there is no reason to think that Brexit will have any legal effect because the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the “New York Convention”), which is the lifeblood of international arbitration, is immune from what will happen with Brexit. The situation is different, however, in the world of judicial dispute resolution. Mr. Hendel referenced the falling away of important EU regulations concerning the automatic recognition and enforcement of judgments throughout the EU, jurisdiction and choice of courts, as well as choice of law, in two years’ time or so, unless the UK takes action before then through negotiation with the EU or unilateral action to keep these legal mechanisms in place. These regulations currently provide an important degree of harmonized certainty on how to deal with everyday issues that arise in EU cross-border disputes, and Brexit will inevitably undermine this certainty. Mr. Hendel noted that the UK might have an incentive to preserve this framework one way or another in order to preserve its perceived supremacy in the financial and legal industries.

Ms. Duvanel examined how Switzerland has managed in the years since it voted in 1992 not to join the European Economic Area (EEA) to overcome isolationism vis-à-vis the EU. Although it took several decades, Switzerland managed to negotiate and ratify bilateral agreements with the EU to harmonize its legislation with that of the EU. For example, the Lugano Convention addresses the issues relating to jurisdiction and recognition and enforcement of judicial decisions between Switzerland and the EU. In the end, she explained that Switzerland has its own set of legislation, but that much of it is inspired by the EU, “fully harmonized but always a bit later.” The harmonization of the two legislative systems has been long and difficult for Switzerland, and it is likely to be difficult for the UK as well. She stressed, however, that all of that had no effect on international arbitration in Switzerland. Switzerland remains very attractive. Swiss arbitrators are among the most nominated in the world in international arbitration cases. Switzerland is the second most chosen seat for international arbitration and Swiss law is one of the most chosen applicable law due to the stability of the Swiss legal system.

From an in-house perspective, explained Mr. Najar (who held various senior legal positions in GE for close to 24 years), companies must analyze the potential consequences of Brexit on their contracts governed by English law, particularly long-term contracts, and determine how to best mitigate the uncertainty related to the impact of Brexit. There is a wide array of potential issues to consider, such as currency fluctuation, access to the EU market, organization setups, employees’ rights, corporate governance, and specific regulations. Dispute resolution clauses will also need to be reviewed closely. Najar pointed out that some companies had already started to opt out of the UK, in favor of jurisdictions such as France and Switzerland, several years ago out of other concerns, such as costs or being closer to a civil law environment. Najar stressed that English law enjoys a longstanding and solid reputation as the governing law in many contracts. However, it incorporates many elements of EU law, and Brexit will therefore create some uncertainty as these elements are being pulled out of English law. Since businesses do not like uncertainty, Brexit might deter companies from choosing the UK as a seat or English law as the applicable law.

For anyone involved in business in the UK, CPR’s European Advisory Board (EAB) is an excellent resource for efficient dispute prevention and resolution. The EAB, a highly experienced and distinguished group of sophisticated practitioners and users from Europe’s leading law firms and corporations, has recently released a European Mediation and ADR Guide. Developed under the leadership of CPR’s EAB, the Guide provides a valuable overview of the most widely used alternative dispute resolution processes (particularly mediation) and when they might be suitable, with practical suggestions on how to make use of them.

While Brexit may seem like an ugly divorce, the fallout for companies doesn’t have to be messy.

The New Italian Mediation Law: Experimenting with a “Soft” Approach to Mandatory Mediation

By Giulio Zanolla, LL.M., Esq., CPR Speaks Contributor

GiulioMediation was first introduced as a prerequisite to litigation in the Italian legal system in 2011, when the government issued a decree to implement the EU Mediation Directive of 2008. This legislative measure sparked a mix of enthusiastic reactions and harsh criticisms that culminated with lawyer strikes against its implementation. In 2012, the mandatory provision of the mediation regulation was declared unconstitutional, but the Constitutional Court’s decision was based on the government’s lack of legislative legitimacy to impose the mandatory requirement, rather than on the illegitimacy of the mandatory requirement itself.

The heated debate on the mediation regulation continued inside and outside the rooms of policymakers and led the Italian Parliament to enact a law in 2013 re-introducing mandatory mediation for certain civil and commercial actions in a mitigated form. The new mediation law, which is not affected by the constitutionality issue of the previous regulation, aims to address the concerns brought by a sector of the legal community claiming that the prerequisite of participating in mediation prior to bringing a legal action unjustly burdens and restricts disputants’ rights to access to justice. Unlike the previous regulation, the new Italian mediation law mandates that parties in certain civil and commercial disputes attend only an initial information session with the mediator; it does not require parties to participate in an actual mediation process as a prerequisite to litigation. The parties remain free to opt out of the mediation before the actual process starts and without any consequence for refraining to continue in mediation.

Through the initial information session, the parties have an opportunity to learn about the mediation process and make an informed decision regarding whether to attempt an out-of-court resolution through mediation or to initiate litigation. The information session is free of charge, and parties who refuse to attend the session are subject to sanctions in the subsequent trial. Only if all the parties agree to proceed with mediation will the mediator formally commence the procedure and begin to facilitate discussions of the disputed issues. With the new Italian mediation law, the parties’ participation in the actual mediation process is fully voluntary. The parties’ only mandatory requirement is to educate themselves about the option of mediation through the initial information session.

Recent statistical data available from the Ministry of Justice regarding the first six months of 2014 demonstrates that more than 22 percent of all disputes for which the initial information meeting is mandatory and more than 50 percent of disputes mediated by deliberate initiative of the parties are resolved without recourse to court litigation. In a little over a year since enactment of the law, the benefits of the new law are tangible, not only for those parties who resolved their disputes without litigation, but also—and especially—for the overwhelmed Italian judicial system as a whole, and ultimately for all taxpayers.

Most important, each of the numerous information sessions and mediations that took place but did not result in settlement created a concrete opportunity for parties and attorneys to familiarize themselves with the mediation process and educate users about mediation, thus contributing to the development of the culture of mediation throughout the country.

If we believe that the principle of voluntariness is of fundamental value to the mediation process and if we agree that the need for user education is a critical element in the development of a culture of mediation, the Italian mediation law could represent a balanced solution to the question of how to promote the use of mediation through legislation. The next few years’ statistics will reveal whether the number of parties who choose to continue in mediation past the initial information session, and the concomitant overall settlement percentage, will grow thanks to an increased level of awareness and sophistication among mediation users.

Giulio Zanolla is an attorney, a mediator, an ADR instructor, and the author of the blog The Case for Mediation: An ADR Blog by Giulio Zanolla. This article was first published in the The Weinstein JAMS International Fellow Newsletter, Fall 2015. Mr. Zanolla can be reached at giulio@zanollamediation.com.

2016 Copyright of Giulio Zanolla, Esq. – All Rights Reserved

CPR’s World ADR Tour Continues

Those who enjoyed “ADR Around the World,” summarizing the current state of ADR in Colombia, MexicoTaiwan, and Turkey can continue exploring international arbitration and mediation through “Worldly Perspectives,” a series from Alternatives which ran from 2009 to 2014.

“Worldly Perspectives,” by Giuseppe De Palo and Mary Trevor, provided individual assessments of ADR in countries worldwide, such as Finland. The March 2012 issue of Alternatives noted the longstanding Finnish tradition of mediation use in labor disputes, but that the process is still emerging for commercial disputes. In 2011, the Finnish Parliament implemented the European Directive on certain aspects of mediation in civil and commercial matters (Directive 2008/52/EC), which is covered in “Update: Nations Are Sharing their Progress on Installing the Cross-Border Mediation Directive” from the December 2011 issue of Alternatives, but mediation retains uniquely Finnish aspects, such as the public nature of court documents in Finland, which can include mediation documents.

The April 2010 “Worldly Perspectives” noted the impact of economic trends on arbitration’s popularity in Jordan, while the Maltese Malta Mediation Center was discussed in Alternatives March 2013. Other countries covered throughout the series have included Morocco, Lithuania, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Hungary, among others.

A number of columns in 2013 were focused on a controversial mandatory mediation requirement in Italy, which was implemented, declared unconstitutional, and then reinstated between 2010 and 2013. The October 2013 issue of Alternatives recapped the latest development, which concluded that the process was far from over.

The full text of these articles and further columns of “Worldly Perspectives” are available to CPR members through our website. In terms of future travels, the next update on the state of mediation in Italy, including the status of the mandatory mediation requirement, is forthcoming and will be featured here on CPR Speaks.