Article 47 - Right to an effective remedy and to a fair trial
Key facts of the case:
Requests for a preliminary ruling from the Sąd Okręgowy w Warszawie.
References for a preliminary ruling – Rule of law – Independence of the judiciary – Second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU – National legislation providing the possibility for the Minister for Justice to second judges to higher courts and to terminate those secondments – Adjudicating panels in criminal cases including judges seconded by the Minister for Justice – Directive (EU) 2016/343 – Presumption of innocence.
Outcome of the case:
On those grounds, the Court (Grand Chamber) hereby rules:
The second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU, read in the light of Article 2 TEU, and Article 6(1) and (2) of Directive (EU) 2016/343 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 9 March 2016 on the strengthening of certain aspects of the presumption of innocence and of the right to be present at the trial in criminal proceedings must be interpreted as precluding provisions of national legislation pursuant to which the Minister for Justice of a Member State may, on the basis of criteria which have not been made public, second a judge to a higher criminal court for a fixed or indefinite period and may, at any time, by way of a decision which does not contain a statement of reasons, terminate that secondment, irrespective of whether that secondment is for a fixed or indefinite period.
61) As is apparent from settled case-law, the principle of the effective judicial protection of individuals’ rights under EU law, referred to in the second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU, is a general principle of EU law stemming from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, which has been enshrined in Articles 6 and 13 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, signed in Rome on 4 November 1950, and which is now reaffirmed by Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (‘the Charter’) (judgment of 2 March 2021, A.B. and Others(Appointment of judges to the Supreme Court – Actions), C‑824/18, EU:C:2021:153, paragraph 110 and the case-law cited).
62) As regards the material scope of the second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU, that provision refers to the ‘fields covered by Union law’, irrespective of whether the Member States are implementing Union law within the meaning of Article 51(1) of the Charter (judgment of 2 March 2021, A.B. and Others(Appointment of judges to the Supreme Court – Actions), C‑824/18, EU:C:2021:153, paragraph 111 and the case-law cited).
65) To guarantee that such courts are in a position to ensure the effective legal protection thus required under the second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU, maintaining their independence is essential, as confirmed by the second paragraph of Article 47 of the Charter, which refers to access to an ‘independent’ tribunal as one of the requirements linked to the fundamental right to an effective remedy (judgment of 6 October 2021, W.Ż. (Chamber of Extraordinary Control and Public Affairs of the Supreme Court – Appointment), C‑487/19, EU:C:2021:798, paragraph 107 and the case-law cited).
83) Lastly, as the termination of the secondment of a judge without that judge’s consent is liable to have effects similar to those of a disciplinary penalty, the second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU requires that the regime applicable to such a measure provide all the necessary guarantees to prevent any risk of such a regime being used as a means of exerting political control over the content of judicial decisions, which means, inter alia, that it must be possible for that measure to be legally challenged in accordance with a procedure which fully safeguards the rights enshrined in Articles 47 and 48 of the Charter (see, to that effect, judgment of 6 October 2021, W.Ż. (Chamber of Extraordinary Control and Public Affairs of the Supreme Court – Appointment), C‑487/19, EU:C:2021:798, paragraphs 115 and 118).