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Features - An Overview of Polish Law

By Piotr Rakowski and Robert Rybicki, Published on May 14, 2000

Piotr Rakowski works in the European Integration and International Cooperation Department of the Ministry of Interior and Administration. He has a LL.M. (with Hons) degree of the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary, and a Magister Juris degree of the Nicholas Copernicus University in Toruñ, Poland. Currently he is involved in Poland's negotiation process with accession to the EU. His main areas of interest are EU law and public international law. He has given lectures and written a number of texts on European Union related matters in the context of EU enlargement.

Robert Rybicki is a political analyst and a senior expert in the European Integration and International Cooperation Department of the Polish Ministry of Interior and Administration. He has a degree in the European Studies and an MA in Political Science from the Warsaw University. His main area of research include the Justice and Home Affairs legislation in the European Union and its implementation in Poland. He has given lectures and written a number of texts on European Union related matters in the context of EU enlargement.


The Polish Legal System

Poland is a republic formed on the democratic basis. The Republic of Poland is based on the Montesquie’s separation of powers principle. The legislative power is vested in the Parliament consisting of the lower house “Sejm” and the upper house “Senate”. The executive power is vested in the President of Poland and the Council of Ministers, and the judicial power is vested in courts and tribunals.

The Republic of Poland is an unitary state. According to the administrative reform of 1998, the country is divided into 16 provinces (“województwa”). The provinces are divided into “poviats”. The basic administrative unit is a commune (“gmina”).

The Sources of Polish Law

The sources of Polish are divided into two categories: universally binding law and internal law.

According to the latest Constitution of 2 April 1997, the sources of universally binding Polish law are: the Constitution itself as the supreme law of the land, the statute (“ustawa”), ratified international agreement and regulation (“rozporządzenie”). In addition to these sources it has to be mentioned as well that the enactments issued in the course of operation of organs constitute the universally binding law in the territory of the organ that issued such enactments (local law).

In order to come into force, the statutes, regulations and enactments of local law have to be published. The statutes also regulate the conditions for promulgations of ratified international agreements and other international agreements, however, in general they are published in the same manner as statutes.

The aforementioned acts are published in the Journal of Laws of the Republic of Poland (“Dziennik Ustaw”). In addition, there are a number of local law journals that are published in province’s official journals.

All other acts constitute a part of internal law. They bound only the organs of public administration and self-government which are subordinated to the issuing organs and organizational units.

The examples of such acts are: resolutions (“uchwała”) adopted by the Sejm, Senate and the Council of Ministers, orders (“zarządzenie”) issued by the President of the Republic of Poland, the President of the Council of Ministers and ministers, the acts of local law that are not universally binding and non-ratified international agreements.

These acts are published in the Journal of Laws of the Republic of Poland (“Dziennik Ustaw”), mostly in the Official Journal of the Republic of Poland (“Monitor Polski”) and in the local official journals.

Constitution

The history of Polish constitutionalism provides a number of the such acts issued in Poland. The latest one is the above mentioned Constitution of 2 April 1997, upheld by the National Assembly i.e., the Sejm and Senate acting together.

An English version of the current Polish Constitution may be found at the Sejm page.

Statutes

A statute is a basic act of the universally binding law in Poland. The statutes are issued by the Sejm. The right of legislative initiative belongs to a group of at least 100,000 citizens, at least 15 representatives, Senate, President or Council of Ministers.

Treaties

Ratified international agreements possess the force of the statute. Once an agreement is published, it becomes a part of the domestic legal system and may be applied directly. Ratification is within the competence of the President of the Republic of Poland.

Some agreements require prior consent before ratification and expressed in the statute. In case where such an agreement contradicts with the statute, the agreement prevail.

Regulations

Regulations are issued only by those organs that are expressly stated in the Constitution. Moreover, regulations have to be issued on the basis of specific authorization contained in the statute and in the purpose to implement the statute.

The competent organs to issue the regulations are the President of Republic of Poland, the Council of Ministers, the National Broadcasting Council, the Chairman of the Committee who is a member of the Council of Ministers, and the minister that manages the relevant area of public administration.

Local law

The acts of local law are binding within territory where the issuing organ exercises its powers. These acts may only be issued on the basis provided in the statute and within the limits prescribed in the statute.

The Court system

The Polish legal system is based on the continental legal system (civil law tradition). The common courts in Poland are the courts of appeal, provincial courts (“okręg”) and district courts (“rejon”). They are competent to hear criminal law cases, civil law cases, family and custody law cases, labour law cases and social insurance cases.

The administrative judiciary belongs to the High Administrative Court. This court has judicial control of public administration and operates through 10 delegated centres of same Court.

The military courts are the military provincial courts and military unit courts. They have judiciary control within the Polish Army in criminal cases and other cases that were subscribed to them by relevant statutes.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is the highest central judicial organ in the Republic of Poland and thus the highest court of appeal. The main tasks of the Supreme Court are to administer justice in Poland, together with the common, administrative and military courts, to consider cessation as a form of extraordinary appeal and to adopt law interpreting resolutions.

Constitutional Tribunal

The Constitutional Tribunal is an organ of judiciary, competent to decide the conformity of the issued law with the Constitution, disputes concerning competence between the organs of central administration, the conformity of the political parties tasks with the Constitution and to hear constitutional complaints filed by citizens. The English version of the act on Constitutional Tribunal and other related acts are provided on the Polish Constitutional Tribunal web page.

Parliament

The Parliament was unicameral until 1989. In 1989, after a nationwide referendum, the law was changed and the second chamber i.e., the Senate, was again re-established (the Parliament was also bicameral before the Second World War).

Sejm (Lower House of Parliament)

The Sejm shares its legislative function with the Senate; simultaneously, it is part of the governmental system in Poland.

Senate

The Senate shares its legislative function with the Sejm; simultaneously, it is part of the governmental system in Poland.

Government

The Polish government is called the Council of Ministers and it is chaired by the President of the Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers is appointed by the President of the Republic of Poland. It consists of ministers who govern given areas of central administration as well as other chairmen of various Committees that were included to the Council of Ministers. It will be worth visiting the Poland official web site to see the main characteristics of the Polish state.

Ministries

Most of the Ministries and main government agencies have relevant legal provisions in the Polish language, but there are also several acts translated into English.

The particular Web sites of the ministries where the relevant legislation may be found are as follows:

Central Organs

There are several central organs and agencies which constitute a part governmental administrations. The web sites of these organs may be found at the following addresses:

Ombudsman

Polish ombudsman – Civil Right Intercessor – is a body responsible for the protection of civil rights and liberties. The Intercessor hears the complaints from the individuals and may take up steps to annul the breaches, has a right of initiative to eliminate the contradictions between the legal acts, sends conclusions to relevant organs in order to exercise their right of legislative initiative, influences the directions of interpretation of the law concerning civil right and liberties, and provides for the Parliament and the public opinion reports on the state of civil rights and liberties.

Societies

There are several professional legal societies operating in Poland. Below there are Web sites where legal acts concerning legal professions may be found:

Lawyers and Law Firms

The extensive list of Polish and foreign legal firms may be searched through the Polish yellow pages website.

Poland and European Integration

The main source of information regarding Polish accession to the European Union can be found on the Web page of the European Information Center of the Committee of European Integration. On the website of the Government Plenipotentiary for the Negotiation on the Membership of Poland in the European Union the English versions of the Polish “position papers” may be downloaded (in relation to various areas of EU law).

Legal Research in Poland

A very comprehensive source of legal acts is Commercial Law Centre Foundation where legal acts of different areas of law are provided e.g., administrative law, commercial law, civil law and civil procedure law, tax law, etc. A comprehensive list of the current state of legislation process may be located at the weekly updated Polish Parliament -- legislation progress site.

Branches and Areas of Law

  • Civil Law and related - On the “Polish law server”, there are various texts on on the Polish legal system. There are also downloadable versions of the Polish Civil Code at the Rzeczpospolita’s legal serwis site (the main Polish daily newspaper).
  • Commercial Law and related – ABC Publishing House is a large publishing house which provides the Internet users with several regulations including the Polish Commercial Law, Banking Law, Tax Law, Labour Law, etc. The service is currently free of charge. You have to click on “Service” and then on “Zbiory Praw” to get access to the Polish versions of these laws.
  • Investing in Poland - Anyone who is thinking of an investment in Poland should visit the home page of Polish Agency for Foreign Investment. This is a Polish government agency whose aim is to promote foreign investment in Poland. The outlines of major acts including Act on the Acquisition of Real Estate by Foreigners and Act on Companies with Foreign Shareholdings are available there in English.
  • Penal Law - a Polish version of the Penal Code can be downloaded from the Legal server of Rzeczpospolita.
  • Broadcasting Law - The central institution within Polish administration that is responsible for supervising the legality, free broadcasting and media is the National Broadcasting Council. The relevant legal provisions concerning the functioning of the Council as well the acts issued by the Council may be found at the English version of the National Broadcasting Council site.

Other

Polish Embassies

The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs also provides a useful information with the Internet addresses of the Poland’s embassies and consulates throughout the world.

Other Sources of Information on Poland

The CIA provides a general overview of Poland in their World Fact Book publication.