This is the story of a meeting. Militant, professional, friendly. Sylwia Gregorczyk and Michał Wawrykiewicz, two Polish lawyers, who barely knew each other, when they found themselves before the Supreme Court on July 23, 2017, in the midst of a demonstration for the independence of justice.
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She has been responsible for Pro Bono (free legal aid) with the British firm Clifford since 2006. He has been self-employed for 20 years, an expert in public, European and commercial law. All in the fervor of thousands of demonstrators, carrying candles, chanting “Cons-ti-tu-tion! Cons-ti-tu-tion! ».
They share the same conclusion: “What a crowd! We did not expect the independence of justice to be such a popular theme. We said to ourselves that as lawyers, we had something to do to inform the population, and to prevent the legal system from collapsing”recalls Sylwia Gregorczyk.
Very quickly, they created “Wolne Sądy” (“Free Courts”), a collective which two other female lawyers joined, and which then took the form of a foundation. The premises are located a few minutes walk from the center of Warsaw, on the fifth floor of a building, divided into two apartments. One houses Michał Wawrykiewicz’s cabinet. Just cross the landing to pass on the side of the NGO.
Right from the start, Michał Wawrykiewicz launched an idea. Why not invent concrete cases staged in short films broadcast on the Internet, to illustrate what could be a judicial system brought to heel by the executive? Rather than wear their eyes out in austere legal texts, the stooges have taken on the role of screenwriter, director and actor.
A video takes the example of a car accident in which a driver is linked to a politician, with this question: will you have the right to a fair trial in the future system? Same demonstration, in the case of domestic violence. Two cases that turned out to be prescient, underline the lawyers of “Wolne Sądy”.
From fiction to reality
The aces of communication will seek out citizens even in their centers of interest. All analogies are good. They take advantage of the Euro football tournament to show how breaking the rules harms the game. The videos create a buzz, hundreds of thousands of views, which attracts actors, artists, writers, TV show hosts, and even the Nobel Prize in Literature Olga Tokarczuk. Start the parodies of romantic comedy, or rap clip. Their audience is exploding. But Michał Wawrykiewicz warns: their commitment had a price. “I lost a lot of customers”he recalls.
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He quickly found some, as fiction joined reality. The troublemakers returned to serious things in the summer of 2018, when the government began to want to put the president of the Supreme Court on early retirement. Then more and more angry litigants knocked on their door. Today, “Wolne Sądy” defends about fifty cases, among which 17 judges in the crosshairs of the government.
The team has pleaded a dozen times before the Court of Justice of the EU, each time with a victory. “In 2019, we spent our time in Brussels”, summarizes Sylwia Gregorczyk. So much so that last year the European Parliament awarded the organization the European Citizen’s Prize. Also on the legal level, the NGO uses non-conventional weapons. “There are cases that we have, for example, pleaded directly at second instance. It was unthinkable, but it worked! »says Michał Wawrykiewicz.
“Wolne Sądy” also prepares for the future. The NGO records in reports the slightest transformation of the legal system. The goal is to bequeath to future rulers a roadmap to restore the rule of law, in the event of alternation, after the general elections of 2023.
Their ten-point plan, which is based on European court rulings, sets as a condition the withdrawal of all “neo-judges” illegally appointed, the reinstatement of suspended judges, and the reinstatement of a “healthy competition” in the appointments of magistrates. A program that lawyers are already striving to have adopted in the opposition parties.
Their inspiration: two films,“Twelve Angry Men” and “Endless”
Sylwia Gregorczyk: Twelve Angry Mendirected by Sidney Lumet (1957).
“The film deals with a popular jury that must deliberate on the fate of a young man accused of parricide. For legal professionals, it is a work on law and a commentary on justice. It is also a veritable manifesto on the art of persuasion and adhesion. »
Michal Wawrykiewicz: Unending (Bez końca), directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski (1985).
“It is the story of the widow of a lawyer who tries to pursue her last case in court, while defending a striker arrested at the beginning of the Solidarnosc movement. A lesson in courage for those who want to defend just causes. »