Opinions & Speeches

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The Supreme Administrative Court of Poland President's speech given during the conference commemorating the 95th anniversary of the establishment of the Supreme Administrative Tribunal held on 4 December 2017

Honourable Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This conference is of special importance. This is mainly due to the fact that it is held during the still celebrated 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Supreme Court and in the days preceding the hundredth anniversary of Poland's independence. Awaiting this round anniversary, we would like to commemorate the institution which was an integral part of the Polish State reborn at that time, namely the Supreme Administrative Tribunal set up ninety-five years ago.
Let me share a few historical remarks at that point.
As you may know, there was no doubt in the Second Republic of Poland, re-established after the period of partition, that it is necessary to introduce administrative judiciary. The legal theory in existence at that time recognised administrative judiciary as the most important component of the state of law and one of the most important institutions of the widely-understood administration.
By the decree of 8 February 1919 issued by the Chief of State, the remits of the Vienna Administrative Tribunal were entrusted to the Supreme Court, within which 4th Senate for Legal and Public Affairs, composed of the former judges of the Vienna tribunal, started its functioning. In the former Prussian Partition, the remits of the court of the highest instance were entrusted to the Administrative Senate of the Court of Appeal in Poznań.
This was a starting point for an extraordinarily interesting debate on the model that should be introduced. Legal regulations providing for the establishment of separate administrative judiciary appeared in all constitution drafts, and even the March Constitution of Poland itself envisaged the establishment, by means of a separate statutory act, of the branch of judiciary in charge of adjudicating upon the legality of acts performed by central and local government administration, with the involvement of citizens. The reception of the German model with many instances was discussed, the Austrian model with a single instance was considered, and the concept of the French Council of State was taken into account.
After four years of efforts to have a separate and independent administrative tribunal having jurisdiction over all united parts of the Republic of Poland, the Act of 3 August 1922 on the Supreme Administrative Tribunal was adopted. A dual solution was adopted then, which was considered transitional at that time; for the majority of Polish voivodships, the Supreme Administrative Tribunal was the first and the last instance court. Only for the Silesia, the Greater Poland and the Pomerania, the courts of lower instance were established, and those included the Voivodship Administrative Courts in Toruń, Poznań and Katowice. By means of its case-law, the Supreme Administrative Tribunal made the application of law consistent in the still developing Polish state administration or even built the foundations of this administration, and developed the standards of administrative proceedings which formed a basis for future solutions introduced in the President of Republic of Poland’s Ordinance of 1928 on Administrative Proceedings. The most represented group in the preparatory work for this ordinance were the judges of the Supreme Administrative Tribunal.
Judicial decisions made by the Supreme Administrative Tribunal were important not only to the administration, being the apparatus of the executive power, but also to citizens. In the difficult post-partition environment, the rulings of the Supreme Administrative Tribunal were often the only protection against the administration that abused law in individual cases. The same was true about high-profile cases heard by the Tribunal, also, which is noteworthy, after the May Coup d'État. The cases of the local government of Lviv dissolved by the decision of authorities, the case of professor at the University of Warsaw, Zygmunt Cybichowski, who was removed from his chair position and made retired, or the case of Wojciech Korfanty relating to outstanding tax obligations may be recalled as illustrations.
If it is taken into account that at that moment the Supreme Administrative Tribunal had been functioning for 17 years only and had never had more than 40 judges, we may say that so much was owed by the Second Republic of Poland to so few.
At this point, I would also like to remind you that the Supreme Administrative Tribunal, in its first days of functioning, enjoyed the hospitality of the Supreme Court that gave the Tribunal access to its premises in the Palace of the Commonwealth – Krasiński Palace.
The Supreme Administrative Tribunal from that era was naturally not only an institution, but also a community of judges who created its intellectual property, used by us to this day.
Among the first 22-member composition of the Supreme Administrative Tribunal there were 10 judges who served in the Supreme Court earlier. The group consisted among others of the cooperators of the First President of the Supreme Administrative Tribunal, Jan Sawicki, from the period of his service in the Vienna Administrative Tribunal: Włodzimierz Orski, Rudolf Różycki, Roman Moraczewski, Wilhelm Binder, Zbigniew Smolka. Another person belonging to this circle was the prematurely deceased president Stefan Łaszewski, an attorney, a member of the Reichstag and the governor of the Pomeranian voivodship. Certainly, these are people to whom and to whose judicial experience we owe the position of the Supreme Administrative Tribunal in the Second Republic of Poland. For this reason, by the today's conference, we commemorate their heritage.
The fate of judges of the Supreme Administrative Tribunal was similar to the fate of the State and of the society towards which they served. Franciszek Szafran, a judge of the Supreme Administrative Tribunal, was a victim of the Katyń crime, while Bronisław Hełczyński, the last First President of the Supreme Administrative Tribunal, a soldier of the Polish Legions, the only judge of the Supreme Administrative Tribunal who was a member of the pre-war Codification Committee, was an emigration activist in the United Kingdom during the war and died abroad.

This conference, apart from being a jubilee conference, is also an academic one. The Supreme Administrative Tribunal and its case-law is not only a part of history or heritage without any follow-up. Our own institutional roots may be found in that tribunal. When the work on the Code of Administrative Proceedings adopted in 1960 and still binding was initiated, the case-law of the Supreme Administrative Tribunal was consulted. Also, when after a few decades of administrative judiciary non-existence, first steps were made to reinstate it in Poland, the history of the Supreme Administrative Tribunal and its institutional model were taken into account. In many cases, in the case-law of the Supreme Administrative Court, you will find references to the case-law of the Supreme Administrative Tribunal.
We hope that the today's conference, the exhibitions on judges and Presidents of the Supreme Administrative Tribunal, and the recently found chain of a Supreme Administrative Tribunal's judge, will contribute to the discussion about the history of administrative judiciary and its role in the state of law.
Let me extend my sincerest thanks and appreciation to the Chairperson of the Supreme Administrative Court's Library Council, a retired judge of the Supreme Administrative Court, Mr Edmund Łoj, who proposed and organised this event.
I will allow myself to use a quote:
„ (…) I dared to ask you, Honourable Gentlemen, to come to the cradle of this institution, which is to safeguard the legality of ordinances and orders of administrative authorities (...)”
– it is alleged that these were the words addressed by Jan Sawicki, the First President of the Supreme Administrative Tribunal, to the representatives of national authorities at the opening of the Supreme Administrative Tribunal in October 1922.
I wish you fruitful debates and discussions about the heritage of this decent institution in the 95th anniversary of its establishment.

Thank you for your attention.