Lawyers turn to romcoms in fight for rule of law in Poland | Poland

It was a summer time day in 2017 when Sylwia Gregorczyk-Abram, a 34-year-old lawyer, heard a loopy concept.

She had been messaged by a authorized acquaintance, Michał Wawrykiewicz, who like her was fearful about adjustments that Poland’s nationalist authorities was introducing to the judicial system. He puzzled how they may persuade people who the independence of the judiciary was not some summary nicety however the agency floor underpinning democracy.

“He had this loopy concept,” she recalled. “How to persuade folks, residents, why independence of the judiciary is so essential. Ask well-known folks, celebrities, actors to do it for us.”

Gregorczyk-Abram was the correct individual for the job. Working on the Warsaw workplace of a global law agency since 2006, she had co-founded Structure Week in Poland, an initiative the place attorneys give talks in faculties to inform youngsters about law. She known as her pal Maria Ejchart-Dubois, a human rights professional and co-founder of Structure Week, who in turn contacted Paulina Kieszkowska-Knapik, a high-flying specialist in pharmaceutical law.


The 4 met at one of Poland’s largest demonstrations in years. “Individuals have been protesting all over Poland at each avenue the place the court docket is. They realised instinctively that one thing is taken away,” stated Wawrykiewicz. And that was the spark to create Wolne Sądy, the Free Courts Basis.

People protest against judicial reforms in front of the presidential palace in Warsaw in November 2017
Individuals protest towards judicial reforms in entrance of the presidential palace in Warsaw in November 2017. {Photograph}: Kacper Pempel/Reuters

As a substitute of drafting authorized papers and browsing authorized tomes, the attorneys discovered themselves performing, scripting and directing brief movies meant to make the rule of law actual. “Think about you had a automotive accident and the opposite driver was by some means linked with a politician,” stated Ejchart-Dubois. “Is the court docket going to be truthful? Or you’re a sufferer of home violence and the abuser is a member of a political social gathering.”

Each such circumstances subsequently materialised, stated Kieszkowska-Knapik. There have been “tons of of examples”, she stated.

The early movies featured actors, entertainers and writers, from the host of The Voice of Poland, Barbara Kurdej-Szatan, to the Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk. Some of the most important hits starred the Wolne Sądy attorneys themselves: placing a authorized twist on a scene from the Richard Curtis romcom Love Truly; enjoying kids being given a nightmarish Christmas current; rapping in regards to the structure in a tribute to the Beastie Boys’ video parody of Nineteen Seventies US cop reveals, Sabotage.

A still from one of the short films made by and starring the lawyers from Poland’s Free Courts Foundation.
A nonetheless from one of the brief movies made by and starring the attorneys from Poland’s Free Courts Basis. {Photograph}: Wolne Sądy

“It was a brand new idea for us, to talk by way of films, not to write articles, not to write books,” stated Gregorczyk-Abram, talking along with her fellow attorneys in Brussels the place they have been accumulating an award from the European parliament.

Anna Wójcik, a researcher on the Polish Academy of Science, stated: “They have been very modern as a result of they began speaking in a really engaging format to most of the people. After all you’ll be able to say it’s engaging to folks with sure tastes, residing in city areas … However they offered some accessible details about what is going on.”

The movies have been solely the beginning of a authorized odyssey that might take them to the grand chambers of Europe’s highest courts and the European Fee headquarters in Brussels. The Wolne Sądy attorneys consider they have been instrumental in persuading EU authorities to launch authorized motion towards the Polish authorities over the compelled retirement of supreme court docket judges, an try by the ruling Law and Justice social gathering (PiS) to management Poland’s prime court docket.

The Free Courts Foundation team in the recording studio.
The Free Courts Basis crew in the recording studio. {Photograph}: Wolne Sady

The group has filed dozens of circumstances on the EU’s prime court docket in Luxembourg and the European court docket of human rights in Strasbourg. In a single landmark victory, this month the ECHR discovered Poland’s authorities to be “in blatant defiance of the rule of law”. In 13 rulings from Europe’s prime courts, the Polish authorities has misplaced 13 occasions, in accordance to Wolne Sądy’s tally.

The group has additionally represented judges in Poland compelled out of their jobs, together with Małgorzata Gersdorf, the pinnacle of the supreme court docket, whom the federal government tried unsuccessfully to drive out by way of early retirement.

“And but the federal government by no means follows the verdicts,” Kieszkowska-Knapik stated. “It’s astonishing. So after each case … we want one other case.”

Half of Wolne Sądy’s work is documenting each change PiS has made to the authorized system since coming to energy in 2015, summed up in the report 2,000 Days of Lawlessness. It needs to give a future authorities a roadmap to return to the rule of law.

“Each single concept now we have in our plan is roofed by the judgments of one of the European courts, so it’s not our opinions,” stated Ejchart-Dubois. “So that’s the reason we began all these proceedings in the court docket of justice, in the court docket of human rights, simply to have proof, the protection of the judgments.”


They’re making an attempt to persuade opposition events to unite behind this roadmap, to keep away from internecine haggling over the rule of law.

Wawrykiewicz and Gregorczyk-Abram at the European court of justice, 2019
Wawrykiewicz and Gregorczyk-Abram on the European court docket of justice, 2019. {Photograph}: Wolne Sądy

As PiS enters its seventh winter in energy, all this professional bono work on prime of their day jobs is taking a toll. “We’re extraordinarily drained,” stated Ejchart-Dubois. “However we’re like guys with a rope: when one falls, the remainder [step up],” added Kieszkowska-Knapik.

All 4 started their authorized careers in extra optimistic days, as Poland headed in direction of EU membership. “We noticed from 1989 Poland creating, going in the correct course, going to western civilisation, we didn’t need to lose it,” Wawrykiewicz stated.

Poland’s authorities is probably going to maintain them in enterprise. The ruling social gathering managed by Jarosław Kaczyński is planning one other overhaul of the supreme court docket. In accordance to leaked paperwork seen by Polish media, the blueprint would imply any supreme court docket decide wishing to proceed in put up would have to be permitted by the government-controlled nationwide council of the judiciary.

“It’s fairly devilish,” stated Anna Wójcik, who noticed that the proposals would make it simpler to launch disciplinary proceedings towards judges. “Who has disciplinary proceedings launched towards them at the moment in Poland? People who find themselves crucial of the federal government.”

The Wolne Sądy attorneys might be there to contest any such plan, on display and in court docket. “With out this social resistance we’d be like Belarus,” Kieszkowska-Knapik stated.

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