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Poland's right-hand government has forced one-third of the country's highest judges to retire. The President of the Supreme Court does not want to be pleased with this.

Poland: Supreme judge goes to work despite forced retirement

Poland's right-hand government has forced one-third of the country's highest judges to retire. The President of the Supreme Court does not want to be pleased with this.

Poland: Supreme judge goes to work despite forced retirement

"I am here to protect rule of law": Malgorzata Gersdorf, officially supreme judge of Poland until Tuesday, appeared at 8.15 a.m. on Wednesday morning – although she would have been retired since midnight. This has once again exacerbated dispute over reform of judiciary, which was promoted by Poland's national Conservative government. On television, it was seen how Gersdorf surrounded by supporters and opposition politicians entered Supreme Court.

The reform of judiciary, which is also criticized by EU, is Gersdorfs against Constitution and must refore not come into force. The judge had announced that she would come to work because, according to Constitution, she had to fulfil her six-year term of office until 2020. The reform adopted by government majority in Parliament provides for a reduction in retirement age of Supreme Court from 70 to 65 years. In addition to Gersdorf, or judges are also affected, unless President Andrzej Duda grants m an extension.

On Tuesday evening, around 5,000 people had been demonstrating against judicial reform and for Gersdorf and or affected judges before Supreme Court in Warsaw. In Gdańsk, Krakow, Lodz, Katowice and Wroclaw, protesters also went to streets on Tuesday evening. The opposition accuses ruling party of Law and Justice (PiS) of undergoing fundamental democratic values. The EU Commission has already opened infringement proceedings against Poland because of reform of judiciary. The Polish government justifies reform by allowing judges to be removed from office that were still appointed during communist times.

"Doomed to disastrous"

After a meeting of Malgorzata Gersdorf with conservative head of state Andrzej Duda, president's office had announced that judge would be sent to forced retirement in spite of massive protests. Gersdorf remained adamant: "My status as President of Supreme Court does not change by talking to president of state," she said to members of Parliament. Finally, according to Constitution, ir mandates run until year 2020. "I will go to work tomorrow," she reiterated. After that she wanted to go on vacation – for time of her absence, she had appointed a judge to represent her. The same judge also stated Duda, according to his office to interim President of Supreme Court, until official determination of Gersdorfs successor.

In a lecture for law students at University of Warsaw, Gersdorf had previously said that her tenure as supreme judge would be brutally interrupted, although it was laid down in Constitution. "We can speak of a crisis of rule of law, of lack of respect for our Constitution," added Gersdorf. She called retirement law a "political purge." In addition to Gersdorf, or judges have announced that y will not accept forced retirement and remain on ir posts. The head of ruling PiS party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland's strong man, warned in government-friendly weekly Gazeta Polska that resistance of judges was "doomed to disastrous failure".

The controversial law sends 27 of 73 judges to Supreme Court from Wednesday to forced retirement. They are older than 65 years; Until now, age limit was 70 years. 16 of m have asked President Duda to extend ir mandate. He may refuse application without giving any reasons. The presidential office pointed out that Gersdorf had not made use of this right at all.

Morawiecki defends reforms

The law already adopted by Parliament and signed by Duda is part of reform of judiciary, which European Commission has been doing against government in Warsaw since 2016. The EU Commission criticises reforms that would curtail independence of judiciary and undermine separation of powers. She had launched a new infringement procedure against Poland on Monday. It is about protecting "independence of Supreme Court," said commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki defended reform on Wednesday. "Every country has a right to build its legal system according to its own traditions," said Morawiecki in European Parliament in Strasbourg.

At beginning of 2016, Brussels had launched a process of reviewing rule of law for first time in EU history when government in Warsaw cut independence of Constitutional Court. In December, an infringement proceeded because of a law that would extend powers of Minister of Justice in occupation of judge posts.

The infringement procedure may at least oretically lead to withdrawal of voting rights at EU level. However, vote on this must be unanimous. Hungary, which is also governed by law, has already announced that it will not carry sanctions against Warsaw.

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