Judicial control of the conformity of law to the constitution nowadays serves as one of the basic guarantees of the observance of the constitution and in majority of continental European states is performed by a particular organ - a constitutional court.
Before World War II there was no constitutional judiciary in Poland. Both the Constitution of 1921, drafted under the extensive influence of the system maintained in the Third Republic of France, and the Constitution of 1935 precluded the submission of parliamentary statutes to the review of common and administrative courts; furthermore, they did not provide for the establishment of a separate constitutional court. After World War II Soviet models were imposed , particularly the principle of the so-called unity of state authority, which signified the rejection of the separation of powers and ascribed the highest sovereign position in the system of the state's constitutional organs to the unicameral Parliament. The necessity for the establishment of constitutional judiciary was expressed by the representatives of the Polish doctrine in the beginning of 1970s, however, it was not until the breakthrough of 1980 enabled by the Solidarity movement, that those suggestions could turn into reality.
In autumn of 1981 legal experts began to work on the establishment of the Constitutional Tribunal and the Tribunal of State, and the constitutional amendment of 26 March 1982 provided for introducing these two institutions into the Polish legal system. The Tribunal of State Act was adopted on the same day, thus enabling the functioning of this institution a few months later; the Constitutional Tribunal Act, however, was not adopted until 29 April 1985, after three years of strenuous conflict as to its form. Influential groups opposed the idea of establishing the constitutional court as such, aptly considering this institution independent and difficult to be politically subordinated.
Under these circumstances it is no surprise that the Constitutional Tribunal Act of 29 April 1985 - a result of a compromise reached with difficulty - contained a number of limitations upon the Tribunal's position and competences. The most important limitation was in the constitutional amendment of 1982, which acknowledged the final character of only some of the Tribunal's decisions. Decisions on the lack of the conformity of the statutes to the Constitution were subject to review by the Sejm, which could overrule the Tribunal's decisions with resolutions adopted with a two-thirds majority vote. Such a solution was an attempt at a compromise between establishing the constitutional judiciary and maintaining the principle of the unity of state authority. The actual effect was subjecting
the decisions on the conformity of statutes to the Constitution to the will of the Parliament, in other words - under contemporary circumstances - to the Communist Party. In practice, since the pronouncement of its first decision on 28 May 1986, Polish Constitutional Tribunal had been successful in obtaining a relatively independent position and developing interesting jurisprudence, especially with regard to the relationship between statutes and executive regulations.
Significant changes were not possible until the transformation of the political system in 1989. The necessity for maintaining the Constitutional Tribunal was not questioned at the time, just as no controversy was raised over reinforcing its position and removing limitations upon its activity. Nevertheless, it was still a competence of the Sejm - which became one of the two organs vested with legislative power, next to the Senate - to overrule the Tribunal's decisions concerning the constitutionality of statutes. Despite the limitations, the Tribunal developed an ample jurisprudence and attained significant authority among political elites and the representatives of the legal doctrine. The Tribunal's jurisprudence expanded especially such constitutional clauses, as the principle of the state ruled by law or principle of equality, thus eliminating gaps and uncertainties resulting from the lack of a modern constitution or raised by the so-called Small Constitution of 1992.
In the 1990s subsequent governments were unable to change such status quo; the breakthrough came when the Constitution of 2 April 1997 entered into force on 17 October 1997 and the Constitutional Tribunal Act of 1 August 1997 - adjusted to the new constitutional regime - was adopted (Official Journal of the Republic of Poland No. 102, item 643, as subsequently amended).
The new Act on the Constitutional Court was passed by the Sejm on 25th June 2015 (Official Journal of the Republic of Poland item 1064). The Constitutional Tribunal Act came into force on 30th August 2015.