Poland braces for Supreme Court rebellion as judicial reform kicks in

Friday, 06 Jul, 2018

The head of Poland's Supreme Court said she has accepted an invitation for a meeting with President Andrzej Duda later on Tuesday, the last day before the ruling party's divisive judicial reform takes effect.

However, right-wing Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro insists that Article 180.4 of the constitution, which stipulates that the retirement age of judges is set by legislation, trumps the six-year term cited by Gersdorf.

Under new legislation pushed through by the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party she and as many as one-third of the Supreme Court's 73 sitting judges have to step down.

The nationalist ruling party argues its legal overhaul is needed to shake up a judicial system it says it steeped in communist-era thinking and power structures.

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.

Their supporters say the law was aimed at certain judges and had little to do with age, an argument that was bolstered when the government named Justice Gersdorf's replacement: the 66-year-old judge Jozef Iwulski.

The action is the commission's second against Poland over rule of law and could lead to further legal action and fines.

"Their great achievement - a sovereign, democratic Poland - is at stake today", Weber said.

Poland's justice minister insisted Thursday that Supreme Court chief Malgorzata Gersdorf had retired under a law that she has rejected as unconstitutional and the European Union has criticised as a threat to judicial independence.

"My term as the Supreme Court head is being brutally cut, even though it is written into the constitution", Gersdorf told law students during a lecture she gave before the presidential aide said she wouldn't be allowed to continue on the court.

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.

Gersdorf, 65, said she would go to work on Wednesday and "later I am going to go on vacation".

On Tuesday, the dispute triggered protests in front of the court in the capital, Warsaw, which Gersdorf also attended.

The European Union on Monday launched legal action against Poland, the latest salvo in a bitter battle over sweeping judicial changes that critics have decried as unconstitutional.

"The European Union does not need Nord Stream 2, which increases the risk of Central Europe being destabilized and which gives Russian Federation very strong tools of influence, not only over the European economy, but also on European policy", Morawiecki said.

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.

Warsaw also faces the threat of losing its voting rights in the bloc under a procedure launched late past year in response to the judiciary reforms.

Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said Gersdorf is "doomed to fail miserably".