Polish minister says European rights law breaches constitution

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland's justice minister on Thursday asked its Constitutional Tribunal to examine whether an article of the European Convention on Human Rights breaches the constitution, deepening an international row over the country's judicial reforms.

Critics including the European Union say Poland's nationalist government is undermining judicial independence, and in May the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that a company had been denied its right to a proper hearing due to the illegal appointment of a Constitutional Tribunal judge.

Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights says "everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law".

The European Convention on Human Rights applies to members of the Council of Europe, an organisation which was formed after World War Two to protect human rights and the rule of law. The Council of Europe is the guardian of the ECHR and it is separate from the European Union.

According to the justification of the request made to the Constitutional Tribunal by Zbigniew Ziobro, who also serves as prosecutor general, Article 6 is against the Polish constitution as it allows the ECHR to assess the legality of the appointment of judges and whether the Constitutional Tribunal is independent, rights he says should be reserved for Poland.

"The judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, which undermined the legality of judges appointed to the Polish Constitutional Tribunal... violates the sovereignty of Poland," the Public Prosecutor's Office said in a statement.

"Such interference by international bodies in the model of the domestic constitutional judiciary risks legal chaos."

The move by Ziobro, leader of an arch-conservative, eurosceptic junior partner in Poland's ruling coalition, comes as the largest of the European Union's eastern members looks to be approaching a crucial moment in its long-running dispute over the government's judicial reforms.

The European Commission has given Poland until Aug. 16 to comply with a ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), ignored by Warsaw, that Poland's system for disciplining judges broke EU law and should be suspended.

If Poland does not comply, the Commission will ask the CJEU to impose financial sanctions on Warsaw.

The ECHR did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Alan Charlish; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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