Head of Polish supreme court defies retirement law condemned by EU

The head of the Polish supreme court, Małgorzata Gersdorf, has turned up for work in defiance of a retirement law which has been pushed through by the rightwing government but criticised by the EU for undermining judicial independence.

On Monday, the EU launched legal action against Poland relating to the law, the latest salvo in a bitter battle over judicial changes critics have decried as unconstitutional.

According to Amnesty International, judges in Poland are “experiencing political pressure” in connection with the changes, which are said to pose a threat to the separation of powers.

About 5,000 protesters chanting “we are with you” rallied on Tuesday night outside the supreme court in Warsaw in support of Gersdorf, who the law dictates should step down immediately, and other judges affected by the legislation.

Gersdorf has described the lowering of the retirement age for judges from 70 to 65 as a purge.

“There will be a purge of the supreme court conducted under the guise of retirement reform,” she said.

Protesters have vowed to assemble at the court when Gersdorf comes to work along with other judges on Wednesday morning. The former president and anti-communist icon Lech Wałęsa will join them, the Polish Press Agency reported.

Gersdorf has said she will defy the law, which would cut short her constitutionally guaranteed six-year term, which is due to end in 2020.

“The constitution gives me a six-year term,” Gersdorf told lawmakers in parliament after meeting the Polish president, Andrzej Duda.

Gersdorf, 65, said she would go to work on Wednesday and “later I am going to go on vacation”. She named a temporary replacement, Józef Iwulski, to stand in for her during her absence, said Michał Laskowski, a supreme court spokesman.

But Paweł Mucha, a presidential aide, said Gersdorf was “going into retirement in accordance with the law”, which took effect at midnight on Tuesday, and insisted the supreme court was now “headed by Judge Józef Iwulski”, who was chosen by the president.

The government has refused to back down despite the EU legal action, insisting the changes are needed to tackle corruption and overhaul the judicial system.

More than a third of the court’s 73 judges are affected. Under the law, the judges can ask the president to prolong their terms, but he can accept or deny their requests without giving a reason.

Sixteen judges have made requests, according to Polish media reports.

The European commission said the changes would undermine “the irremovability of judges” and judicial independence in Poland, breaching the country’s obligations under EU law.

Poland has a month to respond to the commission’s formal announcement, and the dispute could end up in the European court of justice.

In December, Brussels triggered article 7 proceedings against Poland over “systemic threats” to the rule of law. This could lead to Warsaw’s EU voting rights being suspended.


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