From: IHF FOCUS See abouve link for the full text.
freedom of expression and the media; freedom of association; judicial system and
detainees’ rights; torture, ill-treatment and police misconduct; prison conditions; right to privacy
and equality before law; security services; asylum seeekers; women’s rights.
excerpt:Judicial System and Detainees’ Rights
The Polish judicial system has been suffering a crisis for a long time. Many years of
underfinancing and understaffing, excessive length of proceedings in big cities in particular and similar
problems have resulted in the people’s lack of confidence in the third power.
In Warsaw, 287 cases were found to be missing from court archives in September 2002.6 As a
result, the minister of justice dismissed two district court presidents, disciplinary proceedings were
instituted against six judges, and a further seven judges were reprimanded.
Another problem was that the minister of justice was also the prosecutor general. The
combination of the two offices was criticized by the Polish ombudsperson as it politicized the
The most serious problem, however, was the imposition of a severe preventive measure of
detention on remand, which was in many cases stretched over two years. This measure generally
involved abuse of power for political aims which was demonstrated through spectacular arrests: by
handcuffing and often beating suspects, and by holding suspects for unduly long periods of time in
detention without an appropriate reason, pending the conclusion of prolonged preliminary
investigations conducted by a public prosecutor or trial.
· On July 2, anti-terrorist police squads arrested Roman K., a well-known businessman and
philanthropist, in Nowy Sacz near Cracow on grounds that he was a dangerous mobster. He
had been involved in a dispute concerning financial controversies between his firm and the
revenue office and had refused to pay bribes to high-ranking local officials.7 The dispute was
settled to Roman K.’s advantage.
· The press reported a case concerning the smuggling of illegal alcohol by Warsaw mobsters.
Various courts handed the case over to one another, lent the file to prosecutors in related cases,
and checked the defendants’ places of residence.8 In the meantime, the statute of limitations
elapsed with respect to some of offenses mentioned in the indictment.
· In another case that related to fictitious contracts for the delivery of fire-control equipment,
where the loss exceeded 500,000 PLN (Ђ120,000), the trial had not been started six years after
According to many experts, Polish courts were utterly incapable of performing their tasks and,
as a result, lost all authority in the eyes of the public.9 To solve the problem, the Ministry of Justice
suggested the following measures: simplifying judicial procedures (especially in cases of minor
transgressions), dividing big courts into smaller units, forming separate municipal courts (to replace the
present first instance municipal divisions within district courts), and increasing the number of judges by
1,500.10 These solutions, however, were deemed by experts as inadequate to solve the problems within
the Polish judicial system.
The courts’ low quality work was also evidenced by the stagnation of the number of lawyers
and legal advisers, and by the virtual exclusion from the legal profession of a wide range of people. It
was common practice, that only lawyers’ (and not, judges’) children became lawyers. While over the
last ten years, the number of cases brought before the courts went up by over 300%, the number of
lawyers grew by under 5%, and the number of legal advisers has remained practically unchanged for
A significant number of Polish cases were filed in the European Court of Human Rights
complaining about the inadequate judicial system.
· Krzysztof Z. filed a case with the European Court after a nine years struggle before Polish
courts seeking payment of damages for the unlawful appropriation of his tenement house in 1952. Mr. Z.’s house, located in Lomza, had been illegally used by the Security Service and
then by the police. The European Court ordered removal of the police station, restoration of the
property, and payment of damages in the amount of almost €120,000.12
· Wojciech S. filed a complaint against Poland with the European Court of Human Rights,
complaining about the length of proceedings in a case in which he had been defendant. The
case had been pending before a district court since 1995. Mr. S. was convicted only after news
had reached the judge that an application had been registered with the European Court; the
second instance court examined the case promptly, passing judgment after a mere several
· Katarzyna G. was unable to establish her rights as a victim of crime for ten years. Due to the
ten year long criminal trial and the associated statute of limitations, she was deprived of the
chance to vindicate her claims in judicial proceedings.
In cases where law enforcement officials were accused of corruption, the defendants often
could not gain access to their case file for two or three years. These defendants were held in detention
awaiting trial during the stage of preparatory proceedings, where the prosecutor did not perform any
action with respect to them.
In many cases, the prosecution’s entire case was based on evidence given by the “crown
witness.”13 Also in such cases, the suspects were usually detained throughout the proceedings because
of the danger that they might to try to influence the course of their case.
· Dariusz Z., Janusz M. and several other policemen faced bribery charges. Throughout the
preparatory proceedings, which started in April 2001, neither the suspects nor their counsel
gained access to the file stating the accusations against them. The men were detained on
remand until July 2002.
By the end of 2002, a total of 4,173 complaints against Poland had been lodged with the
European Court of Human Rights, representing the highest number of complaints from any member
state of the Council of Europe. The court had passed judgment in 79 Polish cases. However, the cases
lost by Poland before the court (especially those under article 6 of the European Convention on Human
Rights: trial within a reasonable time), did not lead to the formation of a domestic system for reviewing
that body’s decisions, a course of action which was recommended in one of its judgements.14
Torture, Ill-Treatment and Police Misconduct
In March, mobsters shot a policeman near Warsaw. Against the background of that case, the Minister of
Internal Affairs and Administration, Krzysztof Janik called several times for broader powers for the
police to use firearms. He said:
“...Following each use of firearms, the policeman is subjected to complex explanatory
procedures: why he used the gun and why he had to shoot. This is not only extremely annoying
but also frustrating for the policeman. The functionaries suffer psychological tension for
months. This has to be changed. ...The police will treat offenders much more sternly, and I will support this policy. With respect to offenders who disrespect the life of a functionary, the police
should be granted full powers of revenge.”15
Calls for the extension of police power to use firearms (which were broad anyway) led to the
amendment of the Police Act and the relevant ordinance. The provision in the Police Act obliging a
police officer using a gun to aim so as to avoid jeopardizing the offender’s life or health was amended.
The new version provides that the police should aim so as to “cause the smallest possible damage.” The
executory ordinance was also amended: in five of the nine situations where the law permitted the use of
firearms, the police originally had to warn the offender twice. The first warning was, “Police!” and the
second warning was “Stop. I have a gun!” This was reduced to a single warning, “Police.”16
· In June 1999, Michal F. and his brother clashed with the police who had been summoned by
neighbors during a noisy celebration.17 When Michal F. was brought to the sobering-up station,
he was dead. The policemen beat his brother Pawel with a truncheon after handcuffing him and
he had to be taken to the hospital. 18 In June 2002, the district court in Katowice sentenced two
policemen to one to two years imprisonment for unintentionally killing Michal F. The
execution of the penalties was stayed conditionally for three years for one policeman and for
five years for another. The court also banned them from working in the police force for five and
three years respectively.
Cases of drastic abuse of power by the police were commonplace. For example,
a young man was detained after a shooting near Warsaw and beaten by policemen19; a mother, who
stood up for her minor son during his detention was beaten by police officers20; and a student was
subjected to brutal treatment during his erroneous arrest in Warsaw.21
Greater efficiency of crime control was among the announced priorities of the leftist cabinet
headed by Prime Minister Leszek Miller. The first step toward this aim was the “National Crime
Prevention and Control Program” 22 developed by the Minister of Internal Affairs and Administration,
K. Janik. The document suggests that police and frontier guards should be granted the powers to recruit
secret agents through blackmail if necessary, to “extend operational work to much broader criminal
circles.”23 It also permits recruitment of agents from among prison inmates and juveniles. Although
those elements of the program were criticized by human rights experts,24 the document was eventually
adopted in August 2002 by the council of ministers and signed by the prime minister.Prison Conditions
The living conditions in most Polish prisons and detention sites fell seriously short of
international standards. The main problem was the dramatic ovecrowding of those institutions, which,
for example, made it impossible to hold priosoners in facilities located close to their families.
Overpopulation also prevented opportunities for educational activities and generally restricted the right
enjoyed by prisoners. Moreover, there were insufficient funds to provide isolated prisoners with
appropriate medical care and treatment.
In all closed prisons and remand facilities, the floor area per inmate was 1.5-2 m2, despite the
statutorily guaranteed 3 m2 and the recommended 6 m2 mentioned in the European Committee for the
Prevention of Torture’s (CPT) second report.
New wards were opened for dangerous prisoners in many facilities. This development resulted
mainly from the fact that new criteria were introduced for the inclusion of inmates into that category.
The number of prisoners has gone up by 30% in recent years, while that of the “dangerous” prisoners
has increased as much as by 300%. The procedure for such classification was usually formal (based on
legal provisions) without a discerning analysis of the individual case. The inmates of such wards were
deprived of all social contacts; they were never offered any cultural events, therapy, or psychological