Poland Supreme Court judges return to work after EU court ruling

Supreme Court spokesman Michal Laskowski during a press conference at the Supreme Court, in Warsaw, Poland, 22 October 2018. [Jakub Kaminski/EPA/EFE]

Poland’s Supreme Court chief justice asked 23 of the court’s judges to return to work on Monday (22 October), days after the European Union’s top court ordered Poland to “immediately suspend” their retirement under a disputed law.

The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, took Poland’s government to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for lowering the age at which Supreme Court judges must retire from 70 to 65.

Commission refers Poland to EU's top court over Supreme Court Act

The European Commission referred Poland to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on Monday (24 September), upping the ante in the dispute with Warsaw over a controversial legislation that would send dozens of Polish Supreme Court judges into early retirement.

The ECJ ordered a temporary suspension of the retirement law on Friday, saying it threatened judicial independence.

The decision was the latest salvo in a bitter battle over sweeping judicial changes introduced by the rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) government since it took office in 2015.

The changes have also led the EU to trigger unprecedented proceedings against Poland over “systemic threats” to the rule of law that could see the country’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”.

Supreme Court spokesman Michal Laskowski told reporters in the capital Warsaw on Monday that chief justice Malgorzata Gersdorf requested “23 judges, including herself, who are 65 years” or older to return to work.

“Today some judges arrived for work, others are expected to arrive later today, tomorrow or the day after,” Laskowski added.

The PiS-mandated retirement age required more than a third of current Supreme Court judges to step down, including Gersdorf.

Calling the law a “purge”, Gersdorf refused to go, citing a constitutional guarantee that she serve a six-year term until 2020.

The PiS government has defended the 3 April retirement law as part of reforms needed to tackle corruption and overhaul a judicial system still haunted by the communist era.

Powerful PiS party leader Jarosław Kaczyński, widely regarded as Poland’s ultimate decision-maker, said Friday that Poland would “comply with EU law” but added that “we will also use our rights and we will appeal this initial (ECJ) decision”.

The PiS government made no immediate comment to Gersdorf’s move on Monday.

The ECJ said on Friday the order to suspend retirements “is to apply with retroactive effect”. It also freezes Warsaw’s appointment of any new judges to replace them.

The top EU court said its ruling was an interim measure in response to the commission’s argument for urgent action in the face of accelerated retirements.

The Luxembourg tribunal, which could impose fines if it finds Poland in breach of EU law, said it will issue a final ruling at a later date.

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