The trial of Sławomir Nowak, which was about to begin, may not start for a long time. The judge who is to try the former minister and thirteen other defendants wants the case moved outside the capital. In the application to the Supreme Court, he argues that the public must have a guarantee of a fair trial, and the defendants must be sure that there is no “pressure from the judge’s superiors”.
Judge Iwona Szymańska’s motion is in the form of a decision issued at a meeting chaired by her on April 7. “The court decides to ask the Supreme Court to transfer the case (…) to another court of equal standing,” reads the decision, which the judge then justified on four pages full of legal arguments.
Recall that the prosecutor’s office has filed an indictment against the court Sławomir Nowak in December 2021 after an investigation that took more than five years. We described the details of the crimes accused of Nowak by the prosecutor’s office and the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau three years ago. Judge Iwona Szymańska, who is the wife of a well-known Law and Justice politician, the recent Minister for European Affairs, Konrad Szymański, was selected to conduct the trial.
Special supervision of the judge
However, it was not the fact of family connotations that raised the greatest doubts of the defendants’ defenders. Judge Szymańska has an established reputation as an experienced and independent judge. The defendants’ lawyers point to a different situation, which we first described on the pages of tvn24.pl at the end of January this year. Judge Iwona Szymańska also points to the same situation in her arguments, asking the Supreme Court to transfer the case.
– The highest value is the independence of the court, I am happy with such arguments of the judge and I hope that Supreme Court will share the position – says attorney Janusz Kaczmarek, who is a defender of one of the accused and previously applied for a change of judge and court.
Rushing the referee
As we revealed on tvn24.pl, in mid-December, Judge Szymańska received a letter from the vice-president of the criminal court, Radosław Lenarczyk. He did not like that Judge Szymańska initially scheduled a preliminary hearing for the last day of March.
“The date of the preliminary hearing set out by order (…) is too distant. In view of the above, I oblige you to immediately change the date of the preliminary hearing so that it takes place by the end of January 2023 at the latest” – he wrote to Judge Szymańska vice president.
In line with this “commitment”, Judge Szymańska reversed her original decision, advancing the preliminary hearing exactly to the last day of January. In addition, the judge’s activities were supervised by Przemysław W. Radzik, who is famous for prosecuting independent judges. The judge must report his actions in writing on a monthly basis.
In the opinion of many lawyers, the judge thus succumbed to pressure from her superiors.
– It is a sovereign decision of the court whether the case is ready to be appointed. It’s not about having a trial date, it’s about making sense. It takes time, even for the analysis of evidence from documents – commented on TVN24 Judge Bartłomiej Przymusiński from the judges’ association “Iustitia”.
The defense lawyers applied to the Court of Appeal to disqualify the judge, but the decision was refused. The appellate court argued that it could not say whether and to what extent judge Szymańska was under pressure, as it had not received the full files – precisely those with the supervision letters from her superiors.
In fact, the trial of Sławomir Nowak is extremely complicated to prepare and conduct. As we wrote earlier, three of the main suspects are citizens Ukraine and Turkey, the indictments could not be served. It is not known whether they will ever appear before a Polish court, and these are entrepreneurs who were supposed to give financial benefits to Sławomir Nowak when he was the head of the Ukrainian equivalent of the General Directorate for National Roads and Motorways. Some of the defenders also conclude that the Polish court is not competent to consider the case, as possible crimes were to the detriment of the Ukrainian state.
– I believe that there are so many errors and shortcomings in the prosecutor’s investigation that the case should be returned to the prosecutor’s office – says lawyer Joanna Broniszewska, who defends Sławomir Nowak.
The vicissitudes of Sławomir Nowak’s trial are a hot topic in the corridors of the capital’s courts. Most of our interlocutors indicate that the politically engaged leadership wants the process to start as soon as possible.
– It’s about photos on the dock of Sławomir Nowak, associated with Donald Tusk. Perfect for an election campaign. Mr Presidents, with their overzealousness, can achieve the opposite effect – one of the experienced judges tells us, asking to remain anonymous.
Pressure on the referee
In her decision, Judge Szymańska presented the case of letters she had received from her superior. “Letters addressed to a judge as part of administrative supervision are perceived by the public as substantive pressure on the judge’s decision, which is not devoid of rational grounds, thus the intransigence of the Court in this respect does not serve to build the authority of the judiciary” – reads the excerpt from the justification.
Therefore, the judge believes that it is necessary to transfer the case “so as to ensure that there is no doubt among the public as to the existence of guarantees of a fair trial (…) also for the participants of the trial in terms of possible pressure from the judge-referent’s superiors to conduct this case”. – I perceive the justification as a judge’s fight for his independence and impartiality, as well as a fight for the dignity of the entire judiciary – commented attorney Joanna Broniszewska.
If the Supreme Court agrees with the judge’s arguments, the beginning of the trial may be postponed by up to two years – because that’s how long it took the experienced, efficient judge Szymańska to prepare it. The new judge will first have to familiarize himself with 150 volumes of open case files, 37 classified case files, and then consider the numerous motions of the fifteen defendants.
Main photo source: Andrzej Iwanczuk/PAP/EPA