On 15 April 2015, the Polish Supreme Court has issued a very important resolution concerning the restoration of forests and agricultural property, which were nationalized by the Polish communist authorities after the Second World War. This resolution may stop further restoration of forests to pre-war owners and their heirs.
The communist authorities issued on 12 March 1958 a statute that legitimized the nationalization of forests as a part of the land reform. According to its Article 9 Section 3 and 4, if the previous owner filed a motion with the court to have his property returned, then the court had to suspend any proceedings and refer the matter to the authorities. The authorities issued then a decision confirming that the property was state-owned. In effect, any court proceedings had to be discontinued.
After Poland’s transition to a democratic regime, the above said article was revoked as of 1 January 1992. The owners and their heirs have then started to file motions for the return of their property with the courts. In some cases they were successful. The Treasury usually as its defense against such motions, filed its own motion for the court to declare that it has gained ownership of the forest through usucaption.
Some courts were of the opinion that the Treasury’s period of usucaption could not run between 12 March 1958 and 1 January 1992 as the procedure for returning property at that time was a mere façade.
The Supreme Court in its resolution has clearly ruled that although the procedure practically blocked any return of forests and agricultural property to its rightful owners, the Treasury’s period of usucaption of those properties did run correctly in the period when the procedure was in effect.
The resolution was issued by 7 judges of the Supreme Court, which means that the courts of lower instances are obliged to follow it.
In the recent years, we have seen a rise in the amount of property returned to rightful owners, that is the heirs of pre-war owners. However, this resolution may in most cases successfully block any attempts of the heirs of pre-war owners to have their property returned as the courts will now confirm the usucaption of the State in regards to the nationalized forests.
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