BRUSSELS – In a stinging legal rebuke, the European Court of Justice said Wednesday that possible shortcomings with rule of law in Poland can be grounds for EU nations to deny extradition requests from Warsaw.
The European Union's top court said that the legal fight between the European Commission and Poland over recent controversial judicial reforms in Poland can be "particularly relevant" when assessing whether a suspect should be extradited.
The ruling comes after a Polish national who was arrested in Ireland last year for drug trafficking refused to surrender to Polish authorities, arguing he would not get a fair trial there. Ireland asked the EU court for guidance.
Poland has been facing increasing questions from its EU partners over an overhaul of its judicial system that is seen as a violation of Western democratic standards.
And the court added to it on Wednesday.
It said on the specific case that if "there is a real risk that the individual concerned will suffer ... a breach of his fundamental right to an independent tribunal and, therefore, of the essence of his fundamental right to a fair trial," a nation like Ireland "must refrain from giving effect to the European arrest warrant."
EU politicians say their opposition to the Polish judicial reforms has strengthened.
"This should be a stark warning for the Polish government that its path away from European democratic values is undermining its role in Europe and the world," said Philippe Lamberts, the leader of the Greens in the European Parliament. "The Polish government must reverse its recent changes to the court system and guarantee fundamental rights such as the right to a fair trial for all."
In Poland, the justice minister took a starkly opposing view. Zbigniew Ziobro said the ruling did not mean that extraditions to Poland should be automatically stopped, but only that other courts would be free to decide on it.
"The Irish court has suffered a defeat," said Ziobro, insisting that there was no problem with rule of law in Poland.
Monika Scislowska contributed from Warsaw.