Prosecutors investigate prosecutor general’s decision to remove national prosecutor

Prosecutors have launched an investigation into whether the country’s top prosecutor, Adam Bodnar, exceeded his powers when he removed and replaced Dariusz Barski, the national prosecutor, which is the second-most-senior position in the prosecutorial system.

The situation marks a further intensification of the clash between the new government – which has pledged to restore the rule of law after eight years of Law and Justice (PiS) rule – and PiS-linked institutions and officials that are resisting such efforts.

In a further development, Bodnar, who serves as both prosecutor general and justice minister, yesterday officially confirmed that he does not recognise as legitimate an order by the constitutional court to suspend the move to replace Barski.

Minister Sprawiedliwości – Prokurator Generalny uznaje jako nieistniejące (sententia non existens) postanowienie zabezpieczające wydane przez sędzię Trybunału Konstytucyjnego Krystynę Pawłowicz w dniu 15 stycznia 2024 r. (sygn. Ts 9/24), dotyczące zastosowania przepisów art. 47…

— Min. Sprawiedliwości (@MS_GOV_PL) January 23, 2024

“The Regional Prosecutor’s Office in Warsaw has opened an investigation into the exceeding of powers by public officials, including the justice minister/prosecutor general,” the office told news website Wirtualna Polska yesterday.

The exceeding of powers purportedly consisted of “taking unlawful action to remove Dariusz Barski from his position as national prosecutor”, reported Wirtualna Polska, citing the prosecutors.

Earlier this month, Bodnar announced that Barski had been illegitimately appointed to the position in 2022 under the PiS government because the regulations invoked to bring him out of retirement had stopped being in force several years earlier.

Senior prosecutors appointed under the former government are protesting against the new administration’s move to replace the national prosecutor, which they say was done illegally.

One of them has announced a blockade of the national prosecutor’s office

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) January 15, 2024

As a result of Bodnar’s decision, Prime Minister Donald Tusk instead decided that Jacek Bilewicz, who was appointed as one of Barski’s deputies last week, would be promoted to serve as acting national prosecutor.

The government’s move was rejected as illegitimate and unlawful not only by PiS – which is now the largest opposition party – but by seven of Bodnar’s deputy prosecutors general, who were also appointed under PiS.

They filed the complaint that has led to prosecutors in Warsaw investigating a potential crime.

„Please stop trying to violate the law,” President @AndrzejDuda asked PM @donaldtusk at a meeting today amid growing tensions.

Tusk said that his government would continue its efforts to „restore the legal order, whether someone likes it or not”

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) January 15, 2024

Almost in parallel to the news that prosecutors were launching that investigation, the justice ministry announced that Bodnar considers last week’s Constitutional Tribunal (TK) order to halt the replacement of Barski to be “non-existant”.

The ministry said, reiterating the arguments raised by Bodnar last week, that the order was made “in gross violation of the law” as it was issued by a judge who should have been excluded from the case due to a conflict of interest and because the order concerned people who were not even a party to the proceedings.

The ministry – citing three legal experts – also noted that constitutional complaints are only available to persons who have previously exhausted other legal remedies, and Barski should have first challenged the decision in a labour court rather than immediately turning to the TK.

However, the national prosecutor’s office, which remains loyal to Barski, objected to Bodnar’s rejection of the TK’s decision, saying it “should be considered as another attempt to derogate from the legal system the provisions of law and the decisions issued on their basis by means of legal opinions”.

Informacja Prokuratury Krajowej w sprawie dzisiejszego stanowiska Ministerstwa Sprawiedliwości dotyczącego postanowienia tymczasowego wydanego przez Trybunał Konstytucyjny

— PROKURATURA (@PK_GOV_PL) January 23, 2024

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Main image credit: Ministerstwo Sprawiedliwości (under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 PL)

Alicja Ptak is senior editor at Notes from Poland and a multimedia journalist. She previously worked for Reuters.

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