Poland’s president, government at odds over dismissal of prosecutor

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Poland’s justice minister acted illegally in dismissing state prosecutor Dariusz Barski, a top presidential aide said on Monday, opening a new front in the conflict between the head of state and the new government.

Justice Minister Adam Bodnar has been tasked with unpicking the policies of the previous nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government, which critics say increased political influence over the judicial system.

Rolling back the PiS reforms is crucial if Poland is to unblock billions of euros in European Union funding that have been frozen over rule-of-law concerns.

However, it brings the new pro-European government into conflict with President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, creating further tension at the beginning of what has already been a turbulent first few weeks of “cohabitation,” in which the president and government are from opposing political camps.

“The actions of the justice minister are illegal,” Marcin Mastalerek, the head of Duda’s office, told private broadcaster Radio Zet.

The president was scheduled to speak on Monday with Barski, who, according to media reports, was the best man at the wedding of previous Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro.

“The president says directly that Mr. Barski is the state prosecutor, and today it seems that this meeting has started -that is what he will tell the prosecutor,” Mastalerek said.

Duda will meet Prime Minister Donald Tusk at 1000 GMT and will then make a statement. The meeting had been scheduled before the current dispute to discuss foreign policy.

The president says that Bodnar does not have the authority to unilaterally dismiss Barski. The justice ministry argues that Barski’s appointment was not valid, as laws in force at the time of his appointment barred somebody who had retired from taking up the role of state prosecutor.

During PiS’s time in office, some prosecutors complained of undue political influence on their work. Those who carried out the party’s wishes advanced quickly in their careers, while PiS opponents said they were penalised.

PiS said its reforms were intended to sweep away the distortions and inefficiencies left over from communist rule.

Bodnar told reporters on Monday that he wanted the new state prosecutor to be someone who “enjoys absolute authority, respect from all legal circles, and will guarantee the proper functioning of the prosecutor’s office in the future.”

Bodnar said he had given Jacek Bilewicz the responsibilities of state prosecutor on an interim basis while a selection process for a permanent replacement takes place.

He also said that he would present the main points of a bill before the end of the week that would separate the positions of justice minister and prosecutor general.