Language of document : ECLI:EU:C:2020:234

Joined Cases C558/18 and C563/18

Miasto Łowicz
Skarb Państwa — Wojewoda Łódzki


Prokurator Generalny
VX and Others

(Requests for a preliminary ruling brought by the Sąd Okręgowy w Łodzi and by the Sąd Okręgowy w Warszawie)

 Judgment of the Court (Grand Chamber), 26 March 2020

(References for a preliminary ruling — Article 19(1), second subparagraph, TEU — Rule of law — Effective judicial protection in the fields covered by Union law — Principle of judicial independence — Disciplinary regime applicable to national judges — Jurisdiction of the Court — Article 267 TFEU — Admissibility — Interpretation necessary to enable the referring court to deliver its judgment — Meaning)

1.        EU law — Principles — Right to effective judicial protection — Principle of judicial independence — Scope

(Art. 19(1), second subparagraph, TEU; Art. 267 TFEU; Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Art. 47, second paragraph, and Art. 51(1))

(see paragraphs 32-36, 59)

2.        Questions referred for a preliminary ruling — Jurisdiction of the Court — Limits — General or hypothetical questions — No connecting factor between the dispute in the main proceedings and the provision of Union law covered by the questions referred for a preliminary ruling — Inadmissibility

(Art. 19(1), second subparagraph, TEU; Art. 267 TFEU)

(see paragraphs 45, 49, 51-53, 60, operative part)

3.        Questions referred for a preliminary ruling — Reference to the Court — Jurisdiction of national courts — Scope — National legislation preventing a court ruling at last instance from referring questions for a preliminary ruling or from maintaining them, subject to the imposition of disciplinary measures — Not permissible

(Art. 267 TFEU)

(see paragraphs 56, 57)


The Court declares that the two requests for a preliminary ruling concerning Polish measures from 2017 establishing a disciplinary procedure regime for judges are inadmissible

The fact that a national judge made a request for a preliminary ruling which turned out to be inadmissible cannot, however, lead to disciplinary proceedings being brought against that judge

In the judgment in Miasto Łowicz and Prokurator Generalny (Joined Cases C‑558/18 and C‑563/18), delivered on 26 March 2020, the Court, sitting as the Grand Chamber, declared the requests for a preliminary ruling made by the Regional Court, Łódź (Poland) and the Regional Court, Warsaw (Poland) to be inadmissible. By those two requests, the referring courts in essence asked the Court of Justice whether the new Polish legislation relating to the disciplinary regime for judges was compatible with the right of individuals to effective judicial protection, guaranteed in the second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU.

The first case (C‑558/18) originates from a dispute between the town of Łowicz in Poland and the State Treasury concerning a request for payment of public funding. The referring court stated that it was likely that the decision which it was going to take in that case would be unfavourable to the State Treasury. As regards the second case (C‑563/18), it concerns criminal proceedings brought against three persons for offences committed in 2002 and 2003, and the referring court has to consider granting them an exceptional reduction in their sentences given that they collaborated with the criminal authorities by admitting the charges against them. Both requests for a preliminary ruling express fears that such decisions will lead to disciplinary proceedings being brought against the single judge presiding in each of the cases. The national courts referred to the recent legislative reforms that took place in Poland, which call into question the objectivity and impartiality of disciplinary proceedings relating to judges and have an impact on the independence of the Polish courts. Highlighting in particular the considerable influence which the Minister for Justice now has in disciplinary proceedings relating to the judges of the ordinary courts, the referring judges point to the lack of adequate safeguards accompanying that influence. For the referring courts, the disciplinary procedures thus conceived confer on the legislative and executive branches a means of ousting judges whose decisions do not suit them, thereby influencing the court judgments which they must deliver.

After confirming that it has jurisdiction to interpret the second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU, the Court ruled on the admissibility of both requests for a preliminary ruling. In that regard, it first of all observed that, under Article 267 TFEU, the preliminary ruling sought must be ‘necessary’ to enable the referring court ‘to give judgment’. It also pointed out that, under that provision as interpreted by the case-law of the Court, a national court or tribunal is not empowered to bring a matter before the Court by way of a request for a preliminary ruling unless a case is pending before it in which it is called upon to give a decision which is capable of taking account of the preliminary ruling. Highlighting the specific nature of its role in references for a preliminary ruling, that is to say, helping the referring court to resolve the specific dispute pending before that court, the Court of Justice then stated that there must be a connecting factor between that dispute and the provision of EU law for which an interpretation is sought. That connecting factor must be such that that interpretation is objectively required for the decision to be taken by the referring court.

In the present case, the Court found, first, that the disputes in the main proceedings are not connected with Union law, in particular with the second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU to which the questions referred for a preliminary ruling relate. It therefore held that the referring courts are not called upon to apply that law in order to rule on the substance of those disputes. Secondly, noting that it had indeed already held to be admissible questions concerning the interpretation of procedural provisions of EU law which the referring court concerned was required to apply in order to deliver its judgment, (1) the Court stated that that was not the scope of the questions referred in the two cases. Thirdly, the Court stated that an answer to those questions did not appear capable of providing the referring courts with an interpretation of EU law which would allow them to resolve procedural questions of national law before being able to rule, as appropriate, on the substance of the disputes in the main proceedings. (2) Accordingly, the Court held that it was not apparent from the orders for reference that there is a connecting factor between the provision of EU law to which the questions referred for a preliminary ruling relate and the disputes in the main proceedings, which makes it necessary to have the interpretation sought so that the referring courts may, by applying the guidance provided by such an interpretation, deliver their respective judgments. It therefore found that the questions referred are general in nature, so that the requests for a preliminary ruling must be declared inadmissible.

Finally, the Court observed that provisions of national law which expose national judges to disciplinary proceedings as a result of the fact that they submitted a reference to the Court for a preliminary ruling cannot be permitted. (3) Indeed, such a prospect of disciplinary proceedings is likely to undermine the effective exercise by the national judges concerned of the discretion to refer questions to the Court and of the functions of the court responsible for the application of EU law entrusted to them by the Treaties. In that regard, the Court made it clear that not being exposed to such disciplinary proceedings or measures for that reason also constitutes a guarantee essential to their independence.

1      Judgment of the Court of 17 February 2011, Weryński (C‑283/09, EU:C:2011:85).

2      Judgment of the Court of 19 November 2019, A. K. and Others (Independence of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court) (Joined Cases C‑585/18, C‑624/18 and C‑625/18, EU:C:2019:982).

3      Order of the President of the Court of 1 October 2018, Miasto Łowicz and Prokuratura Okręgowa w Płocku (Joined Cases C‑558/18 and C‑563/18, EU:C:2018:923).