Trybunał Konstytucyjny

Adres: 00-918 Warszawa, al. Szucha 12 a tel: +22 657-45-15

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Constitutional Tribunal's position in the political system and its organization

 The Constitutional Tribunal is an independent constitutional organ of the State. According to Article 10 para. 2 of the Constitution of 2 April 1997, stating that the judicial power shall be vested in courts and tribunals, the Tribunal is to be regarded as an organ of judicial authority; however, the distinction between the courts and the tribunals must be emphasized. Courts - and the courts only - constitute the system of organs established to adjudicate in individual cases ("to implement the administration of justice" - according to the phrasing of Article 175 para. 1 of the Constitution) and subordinated - in a certain way - to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court. The Constitutional Tribunal and the Tribunal of State remain outside the system of courts, thus constituting a separate branch of judicial power.

The Constitutional Tribunal's position in the political system is characterized by the principle of independence. As an organ of judicial authority, the Tribunal is independent from both the legislative and executive powers (although the Sejm and the President are vested with certain creational competences with regard to the Tribunal). Within the judiciary it holds a distinct position in relation to both the Tribunal of State and the courts remaining under the leadership of the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court; furthermore, there is no structural relationship between the Constitutional Tribunal and the National Council of the Judiciary.

The primary function of the Constitutional Tribunal is the control of hierarchical conformity of legal norms, i.e. adjudicating on the conformity of the legal norms of lower rank to those considered superior (especially the Constitution) and eliminating the norms inconsistent with the system of law in force. The exclusive point of reference for such adjudication is the law (Constitution). The Tribunal's decisions settle a dispute on the hierarchical conformity of the questioned provisions and they are passed under a judicial procedure. Due to the activity which the constitutional courts - including Polish Constitutional Tribunal - undertake, they are sometimes referred to as the "negative legislators", as they eliminate the provisions of unconstitutional statutes from the system of law.

It is of crucial importance for the Tribunal's position and its method of functioning that it is composed - just as the other organs of judicial authority - of independent judges.

The Tribunal consists of 15 judges appointed by the Sejm for a 9-year term of office (Article 194 para. 1 of the Constitution). The Constitution of 1997 introduced individual appointment, which means that every judge is appointed for a 9-year term of office, including those who replace judges leaving their office before the end of the term.

The candidates for the office of a judge may be nominated by a group of at least 50 Deputies or by the Presidium of the Sejm (Article 19 para. 1 of the Constitutional Tribunal Act). The candidates must be distinguished by their knowledge of law and possess the necessary qualifications to hold the office of a judge of a Supreme Court.

The judges are appointed by the Sejm. The resolution of the Sejm as to the appointment of the judge of the Constitutional Tribunal is passed by an absolute majority of votes in the presence of at least half of Deputies.

The President and the Vice-President of the Tribunal are appointed by the President of the Republic from amongst candidates submitted by the General Assembly of the Judges of the Constitutional Tribunal (Article 194 para. 2 of the Constitution).The status of a judge is primarily defined by the principle of independence: according to Article 195 para. 1 of the Constitution the judges "in the exercise of their office, shall be independent and subject only to the Constitution".

The judges of the Constitutional Tribunal are granted an immunity resembling that of other judges; the exception pertains of the consent to hold a judge criminally liable or deprive him of liberty, which must be granted by the General Assembly of the judges of the Constitutional Tribunal in the form of a resolution (Article 27 para. 1 of the Constitutional Tribunal Act). Judges of the Tribunal are forbidden to hold public offices (incompatibilitas); they are also bound to refrain from any political activity, i.e. judges are forbidden to belong to political parties or trade unions; they also shall not perform public activities incompatible with the principle of independence of the courts and judges (Article 195 para. 3 of the Constitution).

A fundamental guarantee of independence are the prohibitions to be nominated for more than one term of office (Article 194 para. 1 sentence 2 of the Constitution) and to remove a judge from office during the term. The mandate of a judge may expire only as a result of the following: 1) death of a judge; 2) a judge's resignation from office; 3) a conviction for a criminal offence by a final court judgment (Article 36 par. 1 of the Constitutional Tribunal Act). The expiry of a mandate is pronounced in the form of a resolution of the General Assembly of the Constitutional Tribunal (Article 36 para. 2 of the Constitutional Tribunal Act). A judge may not be removed upon the decision of the Sejm or any other organ of the State.

The bodies of the Tribunal are the General Assembly and the President of the Tribunal (Article 7 of the Constitutional Tribunal Act). The General Assembly consists of all the judges of the Tribunal, and its resolutions are valid when passed in the presence of at least 10 judges.

At least once a year the General Assembly is convened to publicly discuss the Tribunal's activity and the problems resulting from its jurisprudence (Article 11 of the Constitutional Tribunal Act), and to make principal decisions concerning organization of the Tribunal's activity; the General Assembly resolves the Tribunal's Rules of Procedure; nominates the candidates for the President and the Vice-President of the Tribunal; adopts the draft plan of income and expenses of the Tribunal, as well as the rules of composing the benches and distributing cases. The Assembly also deals with situations concerning judges, i.e. pronounces the expiry of a mandate and grants a consent to derogate/suspend a judge's immunity.

The President of the Tribunal represents the Tribunal in external matters, performs the duties referring to current organization of the Tribunal's activities and supervises the Tribunal's executive body - the Office of the Constitutional Tribunal (the Head of the Office, in the rank of a secretary of the state, manages the works and is accountable for the activity of the Office). The Vice-President substitutes the President during his absence and performs other activities resulting from the distribution of duties.

Independence of the Constitutional Tribunal as a constitutional organ of the State is expressed i.a. throughout its autonomy. The Tribunal adopts rules of procedure specifying its internal procedures and the rules regulating the internal organization of the Office of the Tribunal. The expiry of a judge's mandate must be passed in a form of a resolution of the General Assembly of the Tribunal; judges can be held disciplinarily accountable exclusively before the Tribunal; the draft budget of the Tribunal is presented to the Parliament by the government as a part of a  draft budgetary statute in the form presented by the President of the Tribunal and adopted by the General Assembly.