Under Soviet rule, the Polish legal system becomes an instrument of the state. Supreme Court justices are political appointments. The courts are forbidden to rule on the constitutionality of laws and statutes. Police and militia operate under the hard-line Ministry of Internal Affairs, which preserves order and protects the Communist regime.
Enforcement policies relax for a time under moderate Communist Party chief Wladyslaw Gomulka, who curbs Poland's Secret Service and frees some political prisoners. But Gomulka's regime becomes more hard-line over time. He publicly supports the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and sends troops to break up Polish student protests in 1968 and worker strikes in 1970.
Once again, Secret Service cracks down on dissidents. The Citizens' Militia, with as many as 600,000 volunteers, helps police identify troublemakers. Prison conditions are harsh. The 1969 Penal Code allows judges to investigate prisoner complaints, but since the state controls the judiciary, prison investigations are rare and often meaningless.
When Lenin Shipyard workers strike to protest government price increases, thousands join in. Despite government riot troops and harassment from Citizens' Militia members who are rewarded for reporting on their peers, the resulting Solidarity movement wins concessions from the government.
Party chief Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski declares martial law, bans Solidarity, and locks up the movement's leaders. Thousands more are arrested for displaying Solidarity symbols, organizing marches, possessing leaflets. The government monitors court proceedings, administering loyalty oaths to judges and dismissing those thought to be unreliable.
After charges of high-level corruption, Gen. Jaruzelski creates the Constitutional Tribunal to pass judgment on office holders accused of violating the constitution. Decisions can be overruled by a two-thirds majority of the Sejm, Poland's parliament. The Tribunal never hears a case.
Gen. Jaruzelski lifts martial law in July 1983. Secret police murder Father Jerzy Popieluszko, Solidarity's spiritual advisor. Liberal reformer Mikhail Gorbachev assumes leadership of the Soviet Union.
Gen. Jaruzelski convenes historic Round Table meetings to rescue the Polish economy. The subsequent agreement resurrects Poland's independent judiciary system. The parliament appoints an independent National Judicial Council to set and police professional standards. The president appoints Supreme Court justices from a list provided by the National Judicial Council. These justices serve for life.
A rise in crime leads to a wave of police reforms. Local jurisdictions mount their own forces. Uniforms are issued, personnel retrained, and laws enacted to protect civil rights. Parliament expands the number of courts. The government dissolves Secret Services departments that previously monitored social, cultural, political, and religious organizations.
As police make strides against crime, they earn back the public trust. The level of professionalism in the judiciary is up. New judges are either qualified academics or experienced litigators. But Poland's penal code is still rife with vague, out-of-date Soviet-style statutes, and the country's prisons are still crumbling and overcrowded.
A 1997 referendum confirms the Polish Constitution as the supreme law of the land. The constitution strengthens the legal system and guarantees a wide range of civil rights. Law enforcement continues to struggle against fraud, drug trafficking, organized crime, and corruption.
Corruption is still seen as a major problem in Poland, more so than in rivals Czech Republic or Hungary. A high-profile case involving industrialists, the government, and a major newspaper erupts in late 2002. The prospect of European Union accession pushes Poland to harmonize legislation in many areas with E.U. norms.
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