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Poland court rules ombudsman must leave office at term end

WARSAW, Poland — Poland's top court ruled Thursday it is unconstitutional for the country’s human rights ombudsman to remain in the job indefinitely after his term expired.

The ruling by the pro-government constitutional Tribunal paves the way for the removal of the acting ombudsman, Adam Bodnar, who is unpopular with the government. Bodnar’s term ended in September.

The decision by the court, which is controlled by the ruling Law and Justice party, was another step in the party’s move to take control of all state institutions — from the judiciary to the media — and remove officials who could block its decisions.

It comes at a time when the ombudsman obtained a court suspension of the government’s long-planned takeover of the Polska Presse media outlet. Bodnar argued that through the takeover, politicians could control the work of the media and the content it offered.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic said the ruling "creates a worrying gap in the functioning of the ombudsman institution in-between terms and the protection of #humanrights in #Poland. A successor must urgently be selected fully respecting the Polish Constitution and law and international standards."

The ombudsman's office is an independent institution that safeguards the civil rights of individuals, can represent them in disputes with government authorities and obtain reversals of some state decisions.

The court ruled that a law that had allowed Poland’s human rights ombudsperson to remain in office after his term ends was at fault because it "introduced an unknown to the constitution and totally imprecise institution of an acting Civic Rights Ombudsman that has no time or objective limitations" and indefinitely extends his term until a successor is found.

The constitutional Tribunal gave lawmakers three months to amend the law.

Bodnar said the ruling meant either the ruling party and the opposition find a compromise and agree on a new ombudsman or the government will appoint an interim head of the ombudsman’s office, which he said would "not be best for the office."

Meanwhile, the lawmakers were to try again Thursday at approving a new ombudsman.

Poland’s ruling party has been critical of Bodnar and seeking to oust him, but it has been locked in a stalemate with the opposition over the choice of his successor.

The Associated Press