Polish court ruling to determine fate of human rights office

WARSAW, POLAND (AP) — Poland’s constitutional court is considering a ruling that will determine the fate of one of the last state bodies that has kept its independence from the populist right-wing government.

The constitutional court scheduled to issue a ruling yesterday affecting the Human Rights Commissioner’s office, said it had to postpone its session due to the illness of one judge. A new date was not yet set.

Since the populist party, Law and Justice, won power in 2015, it has taken control of almost all state institutions, putting its patriotic, conservative stamp on museums and cultural institutes, turning state media into a propaganda arm of government and — most controversially — putting its loyalists at the helm of top courts and judicial bodies.

The European Union (EU) has repeatedly warned that Poland’s erosion of judicial independence represents a serious setback to the rule of law in the country.

To date, however, the Human Rights Commissioner, or Ombudsman, a top civil servant whose role is to defend individuals facing threats to their civil rights, has acted with independence.

Human rights lawyer Adam Bodnar was nominated shortly before Law and Justice took office in 2015. He has used his role to defend a wide range of groups, including farmers and tenants who have seen their rights violated and people with disabilities deprived of benefits.

He has also challenged some of the ruling party’s changes to the judiciary that he considers a violation of constitutional protections against discrimination.