A Captured State

The need for a rapid EU response in the rule of law crisis in Malta is evident: Every aspect of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination case is susceptible to political interference from the Office of the Prime Minister. The police force is politically controlled, the magistrate is politically appointed, any pardons which may be granted to extract further information are within the gift of the Prime Minister, as are the chief prosecutors’ career prospects. The question of judicial independence, acute as it is, is just the tip of a rather large iceberg.

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One Step Back, Two Steps Forward

The Hungarian Government has officially abandoned its plans to reform the administrative court system. However, the plan to subdue the judiciary is pursued as relentlessly as ever: On 12 November 2019, the Hungarian Government introduced an omnibus legislation which would extend political influence over the judiciary and guarantee judicial decisions favorable to the Government in politically sensitive cases.

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The Power of ‘Appearances’

Last week the EU Court of Justice replied to Polish Supreme Court’s preliminary references regarding the independence of judges of its Disciplinary Chamber. The good news is that the ECJ gave to all Polish courts a powerful tool to ensure each citizen’s right to a fair trial before an independent judge, without undermining the systems of judicial appointments in other Member States. The bad news is that the test of appearance may easily be misused or abused.

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So Why Don’t We Just Call the Whole Rule of Law Thing Off, Then?

Civil society is aware of the dual standards vis-à-vis the rule of law, which emerge when one compares the Commission’s reaction to troublesome developments in Bulgaria to its policies on Poland, Hungary, and Romania. The latest CVM report on Bulgaria not only confirms this, but also leaves the impression that the Commission has given up on Bulgaria’s rule of law.

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When the Judiciary Undermines Judicial Independence

India’s Supreme Court has long sought to protect itself, mostly through an insulated appointment system, from political pressures. Judicial independence seems to be the catchphrase for the Indian Judiciary when it is under pressure or attack. But how far has the Court been successful in navigating and managing the problems caused by judicial hierarchies and politics within its very own walls?

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Luxemburg as the Last Resort

A criminal proceeding has been suspended by a Hungarian justice of the Pest Central District Court to ask the European Court of Justice preliminary questions, inter alia, about his own judicial independence. Now, Hungary’s Supreme Court has stepped in and ruled that the reference was illegal, essentially arguing that preliminary references are not the fora to discuss such claims. In fact, however, this preliminary reference reveals that all other means to effectively challenge the rule of law backsliding in Hungary have failed.

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Protecting the Independence of National Councils of the Judiciary on the EU Level

Councils for the judiciary are one of the main targets in political efforts to diminish the independence of the judiciary in several countries. Since more and more countries in the EU fail to provide a minimum of security as to their independence, it is of the utmost importance that this is dealt with on Union level.

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