The European Union's top court has ruled that Poland's system for disciplining judges is not compatible with the bloc's laws.
The Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice (ECJ) said the new disciplinary chamber set up at Poland's Supreme Court "does not provide all the guarantees of impartiality and independence, and, in particular, is not protected from the direct or indirect influence of the Polish legislature and executive".
The ECJ had already told Poland to immediately stop all proceedings at the disciplinary chamber - set up by the ruling nationalists as part of their sweeping overhaul of the judiciary in recent years - to prevent damage before the main ruling.
The Polish law on reforming the judiciary, which came into force in February of last year, prevents judges from referring questions of law to the European Court of Justice.
It set up a disciplinary chamber to oversee Polish judges, with the power to lift their immunity to expose them to criminal proceedings or cut their salaries.
The EU court ruling comes a day after the same court ordered Poland to cease all activities of the chamber. If Poland fails to comply, it could face financial penalties.
Poland's top court, however, said yesterday that the ECJ's interim measures imposed on the Polish disciplinary chamber contravened the Polish constitution and that Poland should therefore not follow them, a ruling that challenges a key EU tenet of primacy of European laws over national ones.
That does not mean Poland must now follow in the UK's footsteps and trigger the formal EU divorce procedure but is undergoing a de-facto "legal Polexit of the judiciary", an EU official said, moving itself further away from the bloc.
Polish opposition parties say the process could ultimately lead to the country leaving the EU.
Government spokesman Piotr Muller told public broadcaster TVP1 that with its rulings, the ECJ was "attempting to acquire the competences of the member states" on judicial matters.
"It's an attempt to give EU institutions competences beyond what they have been granted in the treaties," he said.
The government argues the reforms are necessary to tackle corruption and end communist-era legacies in the judiciary.
But the European Commission says they undermine rule of law and has sought to bring Poland, as well as Hungary, back into line with what it sees as European democratic norms.
Separately, the commission is starting new legal cases against Poland and Hungary for violating LGBT rights, according to a document seen by Reuters ahead of its official release later today.
The executive will take Poland to task for not addressing concerns around some areas in the country that declared themselves "LGBT-free zones".
Hungary touched a raw nerve in the bloc in recent weeks with a new law that bans from schools materials deemed as promoting homosexuality, which many in the EU see as restrictive, discriminatory and infringing on LGBT and human rights.