Defying EU, Poland names new acting Supreme Court chief

President of Poland Andrzej Duda said he would veto a law proposed by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party that would benefit bigger parties such as PiS and its main opposition grouping in European Parliament elections in 2019. [Toms Kalinins/EPA/EFE]

Poland’s presidency on Tuesday (11 September) named a new acting head of the Supreme Court as Warsaw presses ahead with an overhaul of its judiciary that critics, including the EU, say undermines the rule of law in the ex-communist state.

Brussels, Poland’s opposition parties and rights groups claim a raft of different reforms introduced by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party amount to political interference in the judiciary.

Poland threatens to ignore rulings of EU’s top court

The European Court of Justice (CJEU) is investigating if the recently adopted legislation on the retirement age of Polish Supreme Court judges complies with EU law, but a top Polish official has hinted that the country might ignore future ECJ rulings in this matter.

Among the reforms is a reduction in the retirement age for judges from 70 to 65.

It affects 27 of the Supreme Court’s sitting 73 judges, including chief justice Malgorzata Gersdorf, who was appointed in 2014 and is now aged 65.

She has refused to step aside, insisting that, under the constitution, her term runs until 2020.

Ignoring her objections, President Andrzej Duda’s office on Tuesday named Dariusz Zawistowski as the court’s new acting chief.

The outgoing judges were given the option of asking the president to prolong their terms and Duda’s office said on Tuesday that five could indeed stay on.

Last month, the Supreme Court said it was suspending the forced early retirement until the European Court of Justice could weigh in on the matter.

But Duda’s office responded by saying the suspension had no legal basis.

The reforms have put the PiS, which came into power in late 2015, at loggerheads with Brussels, which triggered Article Seven proceedings against the country in December in a move that could eventually see Warsaw’s EU voting rights suspended.

Brussels triggers unprecedented action against Poland

European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans announced with a 04:13am tweet that the EU executive had activated Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty against Poland, due to “a risk of serious breach of of the rule of law”.

And in July, Brussels launched so-called infringement proceedings against Warsaw, which could result in fines.

Commission starts procedure against Poland over Supreme Court overhaul

The European Commission formally notified Poland on Monday (July 2) that it had initiated infringement proceedings against the country because of the controversial Supreme Court Act, but gave the Polish authorities one month to answer.

The PiS insists the judicial changes tackle corruption and overhaul a judicial system still haunted by Poland’s communist era.

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