Democratic Deconsolidation and Declining Rule of Law in Poland: Restoration, Resilience, and Resolve

January 31, 2023
11:00 am - 12:30 pm




The event will be held in person and over Zoom. RSVP to attend in person or to receive Zoom connection instructions. Please note that all in-person attendees must provide proof of Covid-19 vaccination.

About the Event

The European Union’s (EU) unprecedented withholding of Covid relief funds highlights the gravity of Poland’s battle for an independent judiciary. These actions follow the court capture of the judiciary by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, which has appointed “neo-judges” through unconstitutional means and charged judges who dare to rule against the party’s interests. The erosion of the rule of law in Poland represents a sobering example of democratic decline in a country that is a member of the EU and NATO. It is crucial to understand how this decline came about, the warning signs to look for in other contexts, and the tools that democracies can use to prevent court capture, including the role of civil society and independent media in drawing public attention to the crisis and then mobilizing people to act. In this panel discussion, Polish human rights lawyer Michał Wawrykiewicz will examine the role of the legal community in civil society, where success has been found in fighting back against the decline of the rule of law, and what the future holds for Poland’s judicial branch. Włodzimierz Wróbel, Supreme Court Justice of the Republic of Poland, and Fernanda Nicola, Professor of Law at American University, will offer comments. NED Senior Program Officer Agnieszka Gmys-Wiktor will moderate.

About the Speakers

Mr. Michał Wawrykiewicz is a Polish political analyst, activist, and attorney specializing in constitutional law, human rights law, and European law. In 2017, he co-founded the Free Courts Initiative, a think tank and educational center set up to defend the rule of law and raise public awareness about attacks on democratic values in Poland. In 2018, he co-founded the Justice Defense Committee for the legal defense and support of Polish legal professionals targeted by spurious disciplinary proceedings, intimidation, and harassment. He has lent his expertise to international media outlets such as the New York Times, the Guardian, the Washington Post, and Le Figaro. In 2022, the International Association of Lawyers awarded the Free Courts Initiative the 2022 Rule of Law Award, and in 2021, the European Parliament awarded it the European Citizens’ Prize. In 2020, the Polish newspaper Dziennik Gazeta Prawna recognized him as one of the most influential lawyers in Poland, and in 2019, he was named Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year by the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita.

Dr. Włodzimierz Wróbel is a Supreme Court Justice of the Republic of Poland. He is the Head of the Section of Bioethics and Medical Law and the Postgraduate College of Material Criminal Law at Jagiellonian University. In 1992 he received his doctorate in law and in 2003, he became a holder of a postdoctoral degree.  He has served as a judge assistant in the Constitutional Tribunal and has worked in the institutions associated with the Ministry of Justice and the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland. He is a member of the Commission on Law of the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences and has written more than 100 publications on criminal law, constitutional law, and the theory of law.

Dr. Fernanda Nicola is Professor of Law at the Washington College of Law, American University, and Director of the Program on International Organizations Law and Development. Her research and teaching interests are in European Union Law, Constitutional Law, Comparative Law, and Local Government Law.

Ms. Agnieszka Gmys-Wiktor is Senior Program Officer for Central and Eastern Europe at the National Endowment for Democracy. She has been managing NED’s programs in Central and Eastern Europe for the past 10 years. Prior to joining NED, she worked at the International Organization for Migration in Ukraine and at Spectal, which provides security consulting services to government and corporate clients.

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