Thousands in Poland rally around suspended judge

Polish prime minister Matesz Morawiecki (R) and European Council President-elect Charles Michel (L) during their meeting at the Chancellery of the Prime Minister in Warsaw, Poland, 26 November 2019. [EPA-EFE/RADEK PIETRUSZKA]

Thousands of Poles joined rallies on Sunday (1 December) in Warsaw and other cities nationwide to show support for a judge suspended for having questioned the government’s controversial court reforms.

Demonstrators in front of the justice ministry in the capital carried EU flags and signs saying, “Honour and glory to unbreakable judges”, and “Independent courts are every citizen’s right.”

“Those in power are doing everything to destroy the rule of law and judicial independence,” said Judge Krystian Markiewicz, president of the Iustitia association of Polish judges that organised the protest.

“We want to show that we’ll leave no judge high and dry,” he told the TVN24 commercial news channel.

With new judiciary appointments, Poland further escalates row with Brussels

The Polish Sejm began its new parliamentary term with a controversial approval of three new members of the Constitutional Tribunal, including two members of the ruling party, drawing criticism from the opposition and raising the stakes in the stand-off with Brussels.

Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party has been the target of criticism both at home and from the European Union since it introduced sweeping judicial reforms after coming to power in late 2015.

The government insists the changes are needed to tackle corruption and overhaul a judicial system still haunted by the communist era.

But Brussels has accused the PiS-led government of threatening to undermine principles like the rule of law and judicial independence.

The rallies on Sunday were in support of Judge Paweł Juszczyszyn, who in the process of examining an appeal in the eastern city of Olsztyn questioned the impartiality of the judge who delivered the original verdict.

That judge was nominated by the new PiS-created National Judicial Council, which lacks independence according to opponents.

On Thursday a disciplinary case was launched against Juszczyszyn and on Friday he was suspended.

“I call on my fellow judges: don’t let yourselves be intimidated, do be independent and brave,” Juszczyszyn told protesters in Warsaw.

Poles also rallied in other cities including Krakow, Poznan, Szczecin and Wroclaw.

EU court puts legality of Polish court reform in doubt

Europe’s top court on Tuesday (19 November) ruled that Polish judges must decide on the validity of a disciplinary chamber imposed on them by the government, in a possible setback for Warsaw’s controversial judicial reforms.

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