The head of the Polish supreme court, Małgorzata Gersdorf, has turned up for work in defiance of a retirement law that would force her to step down immediately. The ruling was pushed through by the country’s rightwing government, but was criticised by the EU for undermining judicial independence.
Holding a white rose and flanked by anti-government protesters, a composed Gersdorf entered the supreme court building after briefly addressing the crowd, which had gathered to express its support for the supreme court judges resisting government attempts to take control of Poland’s highest judicial body.
In July last year, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) proposed legislation that would have instantly dismissed all supreme court judges other than those permitted to continue to serve by the minister of justice. The proposals sparked mass street protests, prompting the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, a former member of PiS, to veto the legislation. A few months later, Duda made his own proposals that envisaged lowering the supreme court retirement age from 70 to 65.
The legislation was passed by the Polish parliament in January, and came into force in April. The law gave supreme court judges over the age of 65 – approximately 40% of the total, and including the supreme court president, Gersdorf, who turned 65 on the day that parliamentary proceedings on the legislation began – three months to apply to President Duda for permission to continue their service. That three-month period expired on Tuesday.
Of the 27 judges affected, 16 made applications to the president to remain in post, while 11 judges, including Gersdorf, refused to submit applications on the grounds that the legislation contravened constitutional guarantees of judicial independence and explicit provisions in the constitution guaranteeing the six-year term of office of the supreme court president. The government already has control of the national council of the judiciary, the body that appoints judges.
On Tuesday, a defiant Gersdorf gave a speech to students at the university of Warsaw describing the law as “a purge of the supreme court, conducted under the guise of retirement reform”.
My report from Warsaw for the Guardian can be found here.