Poland and International Law

poland-physical-map
An example of a country with a multi-leveled domestic judiciary system is Poland. Poland is a parliamentary republic and is an active member of numerous international organizations such as the UN, European Union, and the International Court of Justice. Poland was also a member of the Permanent Court of International Justice, the legal arm of the League of Nations that immediately preceded the creation of ICJ. Though there are no currently available cases in the ICJ, Poland appeared before PCIJ several times to litigate disputes with other nations, as in the case with Lithuania over the Landwarow Kaisiadorys railway line in 1931.

The constitution of Poland was adopted on April 2, 1997. It declares that Poland is a parliamentary republic with three branches of government in a system based on the principles of separation of power and balance between the executive, judicial, and legislative components. The legislature of Poland is bicameral and consists of the Sejm (lower house of Parliament) and the Senate (upper house of Parliament). The executive branch of Poland consists of both the President and the Council of Ministers, and the powers of the judiciary are vested in both the courts and tribunals within Poland. Additionally, Poland is a unitary state divided into 16 provinces. The sources of law in Poland are divided into universally binding legislation such as ratified international agreements and internal law, which binds domestic institutions.

The judicial system of Poland is composed of several levels. The lowest level is the common court system. The common court system within Poland is divided into three branches: regional, appellate, and district courts. Presently, there are 376 common courts in Poland, including 11 courts of appeal, 321 regional courts, and 45 district courts. The Polish president, with the consent of the National Judiciary Council, selects the judges within the common court system. The primary goal of the National Judiciary Council is to safeguard the independence of the court system and evaluate prospective judge candidates. The National Judiciary Council is composed of 25 individuals, each of whom is appointed by: the President, the First President of the Supreme Court, the President of the Supreme Administrative Court, the Minister of Justice, four Parliament members, two Senators, ten judges from the common courts, two Supreme Court justices, a judge of the military tribunal, and two judges from the administrative courts.

Cases regarding administrative law within Poland are under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Administrative Court. According to Article 184 of the Polish Constitution, the primary purpose of the Supreme Administrative Court is to exercise “control over the performance of public administration” and to settle disputes between private citizens and administrative agencies within the Polish government. The head of the Supreme Administrative Court is appointed by the Polish President and serves a six-year term in office. Another aspect of the Polish judicial system is the Constitutional Tribunal, which is set up to settle disputes regarding the constitutionality of actions by state institutions as well as any disputes between the central constitutional organs of Poland. There are currently 15 members of the Constitutional Tribunal, who serve for 9-year terms. The Tribunal of the State is another part of Poland’s judiciary and is set up to investigate any violations by the legislative and executive branches in Poland. The Tribunal of the State consists of 16 members and the President of Poland appoints its chairperson.

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Polish Supreme court Building

The highest level within the judiciary of Poland is the Supreme Court. The Polish Supreme Court is considered to be the court of last resort, addressing judgments made by the lower court levels. The First President of the Supreme Court is appointed by the President of Poland for a six-year term and is selected from a list of candidates proposed by the General Assembly of Judges of the Supreme Court. Additional members of the Supreme Court are also appointed by the President and serve for an undefined period. Members of the Supreme Court are recommended via a motion from the National Judiciary Council.

Poland is currently a member of the International Court of Justice, having first accepted compulsory jurisdiction by the court on September 25, 1990. On March 25, 1996, Poland withdrew and simultaneously recognized a new version of their acceptance of the ICJ statute with several reservations. Before its membership to the ICJ, Poland was also a member of the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ), the predecessor to the ICJ, from 1922 to 1946. In its capacity in the PCIJ, Poland appeared before the court a few times to settle several issues, many of which were related to territorial disputes and issues of Polish citizenship. One such case occurred in 1931 in which the PCIJ issued an advisory opinion a dispute between Poland and Lithuania over railway traffic from the Landwarow Kaisiadorys Railway, which linked both countries.

The background behind this dispute between Poland and Lithuania can be traced back to the immediate aftermath of World War I. Before the war, both Poland and Lithuania were part of the Russian Empire, and the Landwarow Kaisiadorys Railway Line represented an important commercial route to Russia’s naval ports within the region. As a result of the war, the states of Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania emerged out of territories from the former Russian Empire. Poland subsequently occupied a region that was directly adjacent to the non-occupied part of Lithuania. Poland then requested transit to the city of Memel, located in Lithuanian territory through the Landwarow Kaisiadorys Railway. Lithuania refused Poland’s request and subsequently shut down the railway route. As the situation escalated, the League of Nations demanded that both countries enter into negotiations to settle their dispute. Ultimately, the talks between both Poland and Lithuania failed, and the League of Nations asked the PCIJ to intervene in the case. Ultimately, the PCIJ ruled that Lithuania was not bound to open the Landwarow Kaisiadorys Railway for traffic under current international engagements.

Poland’s view towards international legal institutions may be shaped by its past experiences. The ruling against Poland in the 1931 railway dispute case may have played a role in the country’s perception of international law, perhaps reducing its opinion of the effectiveness of such organizations. In its declaration accepting the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ, Poland expresses several reservations, including over disputes of territory (“Declarations Recognizing the Jurisdiction of the Court as Compulsory”). As it did in the railway case, Poland litigated international disputes with neighboring states such as Germany. Generally, the PCIJ ruled against Poland in many of the cases. Within a few years, Poland was occupied by Germany and lost much of its sovereignty in World War II. When Poland did appeal to the courts prior to World War II, it suffered subsequent injustice from Germany. Therefore, Poland may have wanted to assert its territorial integrity through aforementioned reservations in 1996 to prevent similar conflicts. Poland was more active in international legal cases under the PCIJ as opposed to the ICJ after World War II. Perhaps not receiving justice under the PCIJ has deterred them from participating in international jurisdictions such as the ICJ. For example, the ICJ shows no history of cases involving Poland on its website.

In conclusion, Poland is an example of a nation with a strong, multi-level judiciary and is a member state to numerous international institutions. Furthermore, Poland’s perspective regarding international law and the role of international organizations could be negatively influenced by its past experiences. An understanding of Poland’s past experiences regarding international institutions may offer insight into future perceptions of international law.

Works Cited:
“Declarations Recognizing the Jurisdiction of the Court as Compulsory.” International Court of Justice. International Court of Justice, n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2015.

“The Judiciary in Poland.” Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Poland. Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Poland, n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2015.

Rakowski, Piotr, and Robert Rybicki. “The Polish Legal System.” NYU Law. Hauser Global Law School Program, New York University School of Law, Oct. 2005. Web. 28 Nov. 2015.

Railway Traffic Between Lithuania and Poland. Series A/B: Collection of Judgments, Orders and Advisory Opinions. Permanent Court of International Justice. 15 Oct. 1931. International Court of Justice. International Court of Justice, n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2015.

“The Constitution of the Republic of Poland.” Constitute. Constitute Project. n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2015

the author

Matt is a graduate of Monmouth University. Matt has been studying and analyzing politics at all levels since the 2004 Presidential Election. He writes about political trends and demographics, the role of the media in politics, comparative politics, political theory, and the domestic and international political economy. Matt is also interested in history, philosophy, comparative religion, and record collecting.

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