Poland’s Rulers Force Judges to Retire with New Law Snubbing EU’s Objections
A controversial law championed by Poland’s government of the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) forcing Supreme Court judges to retire early has now entered into effect in spite of criticism from the EU institutions in Brussels.
The law lowing the retirement age from 70 to 65 came into force at midnight on Wednesday forcing some 40% of the justices on the Polish Supreme Court to quit, a result critics say is intended in order to staff the judicial body with magistrates that are more friendly towards the ideology of the ruling conservative party.
Nonetheless, on Wednesday, Malgorzata Gersdorf, the chief justice of Poland’s Supreme Court, came to word in defiance of the controversial law, France24 reports.
She declared the legislation a “purge of the Supreme Court conducted under the guise of retirement reform”.
“The constitution gave me a six-year term,” 65-year-old Gersdorf stated, refusing to obey the new legislation which prevents her from serving the rest of her term until 2020.
“My presence here is not about politics; I am here to defend the rule of law,” she declared before reporters and others gathered outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
“I hope that legal order will return to Poland,” the chief justice of the Polish Supreme Court also said.
The measure affects 27 out of a total of 72 judges on Poland’s supreme judicial body, and while it does give those of them who are over the age of 65 the right to request extensions of their terms, it also empowers President Andrzej Duda (also from PiS) to turn them down without having to give reasons why.
The new law has not gone without public resistance as thousands of protesters gathered outside the Supreme Court in Warsaw on Tuesday night, hours before the controversial legislation came into force. Protest rallies were also held in Krakow, Wroclaw, Lodz, Gdansk, and other major cities.
The executive of the EU, the European Commission, has made it clear it sees the “retirement reform” in the Polish judiciary as a means of limiting the independence of the courts.
Earlier this week, on Monday, it started a formal “infringement procedure” against Poland over the controversial law.
“These measures undermine the principle of judicial independence, including the irremovability of judges, and thereby Poland fails to fulfil its obligations [under the EU treaty and its charter on fundamental rights]”, the Commission said in a statement on Tuesday, before the new law came into effect.
Poland is entitled to respond within a month, and is ultimately threatened with a suite at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
Poland’s ruling PiS party’s policies since it came to power in 2015 have been seen by critics as being directed at taking control over the lower level courts in the country, and the forceful retirement of a large number of the Supreme Court justices now seems to amount to partial control over the highest judicial body.
The conservative party, however, insists that it is reforming the Polish judiciary in order to stem corruption, boost efficiency, and shed bureaucratic remnants from the country’s communist past.
“We have carried out these reforms of the justice system because the Polish people expected us to,” government spokesman Joanna Kopcinska told reporters.
According to public opinion poll carried out in Poland in June by Ariadna, 44% of the Poles are certain that the new legislation will boost the government’s control over the judiciary, while only 14% are of the contrary view.
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