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Poland's top judge defies government 'purge' and shows up for work

The dispute could end up in the European Court of Justice.

Malgorzata Gersdorf arrives for work at the Supreme Court building in Warsaw.
Malgorzata Gersdorf arrives for work at the Supreme Court building in Warsaw.
Image: Czarek Sokolowski/AP

POLAND’S SUPREME COURT chief justice showed up at work today in defiance of a retirement law pushed through by the right-wing government but criticised by the EU as undermining judicial independence.

The European Union 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.

The dispute could end up in the European Court of Justice (ECJ), the bloc’s top tribunal.

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.

Malgorzata Gersdorf 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, who is 65, has refused to comply with the reforms that require her to step down immediately, cutting short her tenure slated to end in 2020.

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

“Two chief justices”

“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 journalists and supporters after re-emerging from the court.

“I hope that legal order will return to Poland,” she said, adding that “values are the most important and we have to apply and demand those values.”

Today’s edition of leading liberal daily Gazeta Wyborcza 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”.

But PiS Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki defended the disputed judicial reforms to a doubtful European Parliament, insisting the overhaul was his government’s right.

“Every EU country has the right to develop its judicial system according to its own traditions,” Morawiecki told MEPs at a session of the European Parliament in the eastern French city of Strasbourg.

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.

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

But presidential aide Pawel Mucha told reporters that Gersdorf was “going into retirement in accordance with the law”, which took effect at midnight last night, and insisted the Supreme Court was now “headed by Judge Jozef Iwulski”, who was chosen by the president.

© – AFP, 2018

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