November 20, 2018

Chronology: Poland clashes with EU over judicial reforms, rule of law

06 July 2018, 02:40 | Darnell Patrick

Malgorzata Gersdorf said she was defending the rule of law

Malgorzata Gersdorf said she was defending the rule of law

The forced retirement includes the President of the Supreme Court, Malgorzata Gersdorf; Gersdorf told the press that she and her colleagues meant to show up at work on Wednesday, calling her retirement a "purge" under the pretext of a retrospective change in the age of retirement.

While she was allowed in to the modern glass Supreme Court building in Warsaw and oversaw a meeting with other judges, it was not clear how Gersdorf could continue in her role following a new law that lowers the mandatory retirement age to 65 from the previous 70.

Critics say that the Polish government is eroding the rule of law and that its so-called reforms are meant to give it control of the judiciary.

"The constitution guarantees me this venerable post for six years, and I see no reason why I should file a petition with the executive branch about it", she said.

That forces Gersdorf, who is 65, and as many as one-third of the court's 73 sitting judges to step down, unless they obtain from the president a special permission to remain.

Gersdorf said the reform was a "purge of the Supreme Court conducted under the guise of retirement reform". Lech Wałęsa has also suggested he will protest, saying on his Facebook that the reforms were "enough to destroy Poland".

European Union officials and global human rights groups have expressed alarm, alleging the moves represent an erosion of judicial independence that violates Western standards and a reversal for democracy in Poland.

Around 4,000 people - according to the Warsaw town hall - gathered outside the Supreme Court in the capital, many shouting "free courts", "shame" and "constitution" and carrying banners and flags of Poland and the EU.

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But even as the Tuesday deadline for the 27 judges to hand in their resignations came and past, none came and on Wednesday hundreds of supportive protesters swarmed chief justice Malgorzata Gersdorf as she returned to work.

Protesters have vowed to assemble at the court when Gersdorf comes to work along with other judges on Wednesday morning.

It opens the door for the European Court of Justice to prevent the nomination of new judges to the Supreme Court, he said, and in combination with the threat of Article 7 proceedings will significantly increase the pressure on Poland's government. Sixteen judges have made requests.

Walesa, who negotiated a peaceful end to communism in Poland in 1989, told protesters that the current government was "violating the constitution".

Responding to criticism over the reforms, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told the European Parliament on Wednesday that EU states have the "right" to create their own legal systems.

"We are calling for the reform to be amended in line with the constitution and European standards". They accused Law and Justice, whose acronym in Polish is PIS, of dictatorial tendencies.

European Union ministers held the first-ever Article 7 hearing in Luxembourg on Tuesday (June 26) to determine the state of play in the rule of law dispute between Brussels and Poland.

Further demonstrations are planned outside the court on Wednesday evening.

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