Polish Supreme Court’s top judge to defy ’purge’

Polish Supreme Court’s top judge to defy ’purge’

WARSAW - Agence France-Presse
Polish Supreme Court’s top judge to defy ’purge’

Crowds protesting the forced retirement of the Supreme Court head, Małgorzata Gersdorf, and of some of its judges as part of a judicial overhaul implemented by Poland's right-wing ruling party, that has put it at odds with the European Union, before the Supreme Court building in Warsaw, Poland, Tuesday, July 3, 2018. AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski

Poland’s Supreme Court chief justice has vowed to show up at work on Wednesday 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 due to 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.

Chanting "We are with you!", some 5,000 protesters rallied on Tuesday night outside the Supreme Court in central Warsaw in support of Chief Justice Malgorzata Gersdorf and other judges affected by the contested retirement law.

Gersdorf has branded the Supreme Court reform, which lowers the retirement age of its judges from 70 to 65, as a "purge".

"There will be a purge of the Supreme Court conducted under the guise of retirement reform," Gersdorf said Tuesday.

Protesters have vowed to assemble at the court when Gersdorf comes to work along with other judges on Wednesday morning. Poland’s anti-communist icon Lech Walesa will join them, the Polish PAP news agency reported.

Gersdorf has said she will defy the reforms that require her to step down immediately, cutting short her constitutionally guaranteed six-year term, due to end in 2020.

"The constitution gives me a six-year term," Gersdorf told lawmakers in parliament after meeting with President Andrzej Duda.

Gersdorf, 65, has said she will go to work on Wednesday and that "later I am going to go on vacation". She named a temporary replacement, Jozef Iwulski, to stand in for her during her absence, Supreme Court spokesman Justice Michal Laskowski said.

But presidential aide Pawel Mucha told reporters that Gersdorf was "going into retirement in accordance with the law", which took effect midnight 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 top 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, according to Polish media reports.

The European Commission, the bloc’s powerful executive arm, said Monday that 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 (ECJ), the bloc’s top tribunal.

Brussels in December triggered so-called Article Seven proceedings against Poland over "systemic threats" to the rule of law, which could eventually see Warsaw’s EU voting rights suspended.