Head of Polish supreme court defies retirement law condemned by EU

07 July, 2018, 11:28 | Author: Carlos George
  • Poland is on the verge of forcing nearly half its Supreme Court judges out

Poland's Supreme Court chief justice was set for a showdown with the European Union country's president on Tuesday, vowing to defy controversial reforms pushed through by the right-wing government forcing top judges to retire early.

Poland's Supreme Court's chief justice has no choice but to retire even though she says her term runs until 2020 under the country's constitution, an aide to the country's president has said.

The European Commission, the bloc's powerful executive arm, said the move to reduce the retirement age for Supreme Court judges from 70 to 65 would undermine judicial independence, breaching Poland's obligations under EU law.

Poland's ruling Law and Justice Party instituted a mandatory retirement age of 65 for Supreme Court justices earlier this year.

Demonstrators gathered in multiple Polish cities on Wednesday, and the wire service reports that they marched to the Presidential Palace to express their discontent with the actions of President Andrzej Duda.

There were also protests in Gdansk, Krakow, Lodz, Katowice and Wroclaw.

A supreme court spokesman confirmed Gersdorf had been invited and would attend the afternoon meeting with Duda, but said he did not know what the goal of the meeting was.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told the European Parliament on Wednesday that EU countries have the right to shape their courts according to the own traditions.

"Judges are more independent now than they were in the past", Morawiecki countered, arguing the judicial changes will better serve ordinary people.

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The Supreme Court shake-up represents the culmination of a comprehensive overhaul of Poland's justice system that gives the ruling party new powers over the courts.

The notice stated that the Polish government had one month to respond.

JANEK SKARZYNSKI via Getty Images Polish Supreme Court Justice Malgorzata Gersdorf attends the demonstration in Warsaw on July 3, 2018.

Powerful PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is widely regarded as Poland's de facto decision-maker and the mastermind behind the contested reforms told the pro-government Gazeta Polska weekly that the judges' defiance was "doomed to a disastrous defeat".

According to Amnesty International, judges in Poland are "experiencing political pressure" in connection with the PiS judicial reforms that critics insist pose a threat to the separation of powers that is key to democracy.

The law has drawn condemnation from the European Union, which has opened sanctioning procedures that could potentially strip Poland of its EU voting rights. But EU officials have sharply disagreed, saying Poland willingly signed on to EU rules when it joined the community, and that the courts must be counted on to also uphold EU contracts and law.

The change affects 27 out of the court's 73 judges. Supreme Court judges, however, say that it signals Poland's slow descent into authoritarianism.

Under the law adopted last December, current judges have the possibility to apply for prolongation of their mandate by the president, which can be granted for a period of three years and renewed once.

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