Top Polish judge defies 'purge', former president joins protests

Frederick Owens
July 6, 2018

Poland is on the verge of removing almost 40 percent of its Supreme Court judges, as a new law, which requires judges to retire at the age of 65 and also expands the Supreme Court significantly, is set to comes into force.

Malgorzata Gersdorf insisted that her term runs until 2020, as guaranteed by the constitution.

"My term as the Supreme Court head is being brutally cut, even though it is written into the constitution", Gersdorf said in a lecture to law students.

The 27 judges affected by the new law could submit an application to Poland's President - an ally of the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party - to extend their mandate.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki defended his government's policies under tough questioning from lawmakers at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Democracy champion and Nobel Peace Prize victor Lech Walesa has said he will come to Warsaw Wednesday to defend the Supreme Court.

Critics have warned that the PiS government's judicial overhaul poses a threat to the separation of powers, a key pillar of democracy in the European Union member state. After coming to power in 2015, it took control of the Constitutional Tribunal, which is tasked with ensuring that laws do not violate the Constitution, and gave authority over the country's prosecutors to the ministry of justice.

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"This is the only body (Constitutional Court) that could decide whether a law is compatible with the constitution", he said.

Critics at home and overseas say the ruling party's policies, which also include tighter control of public media, amount to a shift towards authoritarian rule.

It said it was launching an "infringement procedure", which could result in Poland being referred to the European Court of Justice. She also said that the law marked a worrying trend in Polish politics where "the fundamental rights of Polish citizens will be destroyed sooner or later". She was met by a wave of supporters, who chanted "constitution" - continuing the mass protests which began across many cities in Poland the previous evening.

But he noted that shifting from coal to natural gas was particularly challenging for Poland because the latter could only be sourced from Russian Federation, "so all efforts to increase our use of gas would have destabilized our security", Morawiecki said.

In the debate that was to be dedicated to Europe's future, Morawiecki also got support from some who backed Warsaw's arguments that an overreaching European Union was meddling in a sovereign state's internal affairs.

The European Commission opened a fresh legal case against Poland over the Supreme Court changes on Monday, saying they undermine judicial independence in the largest ex-communist EU member state. But Hungary, also facing criticism over democratic standards, has pledged to block such a move. The newspaper reported that Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland's ruling party, said Gersdorf is "doomed to fail miserably".

The party's standing in polls has held steady at around 40% throughout the dispute, well above any single rival party.

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