Thu, Jul 05, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Polish Supreme Court chief defies ‘law’

‘UNCONSTITUTIONAL’:Malgorzata Gersdorf called the lowering of the retirement age of judges from 70 to 65 a ‘purge’ of the justice system under the guise of reform

AFP, WARSAW

Protesters hold up posters referring to the Polish constitution as they gather in front of the Supreme Court building in Warsaw yesterday to support the court’s president, Malgorzata Gersdorf, as she arrived for work.

Photo: AP

Poland’s Supreme Court chief justice showed up at work yesterday in defiance of a retirement law pushed through by the right-wing government, but criticized by the EU as undermining judicial independence.

The EU on Monday launched legal action against Poland over the reform, the latest salvo in a bitter battle over sweeping judicial changes introduced by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) government that critics have decried as unconstitutional.

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 Polish Supreme Court first president has branded the PiS reform, which lowers the retirement age of its judges from 70 to 65, as a “purge of the Supreme Court conducted under the guise of retirement reform.”

Insisting that “the constitution gives me a six-year term,” Gersdorf, 65, has refused to comply with the reforms that require her to step down immediately, cutting short her tenure scheduled to end in 2020.

Chanting “Free courts,” “Constitution” and “Irremovable,” several thousand supporters greeted Gersdorf early yesterday as she made her way into the Supreme Court in central Warsaw.

“I’m not engaging in politics; I’m doing this to defend the rule of law and to testify to the truth about the line between the constitution and the violation of the constitution,” Gersdorf told reporters and supporters after re-emerging from the court.

“I hope that legal order will return to Poland,” she said.

“Values, goals, norms are constant and unified, but people change and they can make mistakes — that’s why values are the most important and we have to apply and demand those values,” Gersdorf said before thanking supporters for “coming so early this morning — while I overslept.”

The leading liberal daily Gazeta Wyborcza yesterday ran an editorial calling the retirement law a “Rape of the Supreme Court.”

A headline in the centrist Dziennik Gazeta Prawna pointed to a “Supreme Court with two chief justices.”

Gersdorf on Tuesday said that she would “go on vacation” after showing up at work yesterday. She said she had named a temporary replacement, Jozef Iwulski, to stand in for her during her absence.

However, presidential aide Pawel Mucha told reporters that 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 Jozef Iwulski,” who was chosen by the president.

The PiS government has refused to back down despite the EU legal action, insisting the reforms are needed to tackle corruption and overhaul a judicial system still haunted by the communist era.

Twenty-seven of the Supreme Court’s 73 judges are affected by the reform. 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, Polish media reports said.

The European Commission on Monday said that the changes would undermine “the irremovability of judges” and judicial independence in Poland, breaching the nation’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, the bloc’s top tribunal.

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