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News > World

Poland Reverses Anti-Democratic Supreme Court Reform

  • Poland's Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro attends a government meeting in Warsaw, Poland Jul. 25, 2017.

    Poland's Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro attends a government meeting in Warsaw, Poland Jul. 25, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Published 21 November 2018

The disputed law had required more than a third of current Supreme Court judges to step down, including Poland's Supreme Court Chief Justice Malgorzata Gersdorf.

Poland's parliament Wednesday passed legislation reversing a disputed Supreme Court retirement law, bowing to a ruling from the EU's top court, which had raised fears of a threat to judicial independence and democracy.

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The governing right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party used its majority to push the changes through parliament at high-speed after proposing them just hours earlier.

The motion passed with 215 in favor, 161 against and 24 abstentions in the 460-member lower house of parliament.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ordered Poland in October to "immediately suspend" its decision to lower the retirement age of Supreme Court judges from 70 to 65.

Presidential aide Andrzej Dera told Polish media Wednesday that the unusually quick passage of the legislation was the result an "agreement by the government with the ECJ in order for Poland to avoid paying penalties."

The Luxembourg tribunal could impose fines if it finds Poland in breach of EU law. It has yet to make a final ruling on the case.

Poland's right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) government had previously defended the controversial Apr. 3 retirement law as part of reforms to tackle corruption and overhaul a judicial system still haunted by the communist era.

But PiS MP Marek Ast, who submitted the draft legislation to parliament Wednesday morning, said it reverses the retirement law, in compliance with the ECJ ruling.

"In accordance with the expectations of the ECJ ... if the law comes into force, the affected judges will be able to return to the Supreme Court on the same terms (of employment), as if they had never left," Ast told Polish media.

To take effect, it must also pass in the Senate and be signed by PiS-allied President Andrzej Duda.

However, the need for parliament to change the legislation has been called into question. Legal experts believe the ECJ ruling itself is enough to reverse the retirement law.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Gersdorf asked 23 of the court's judges to return to work just days after the ECJ ruling. Calling the law a "purge," Gersdorf had refused to step down, citing a constitutional guarantee that she serve a six-year term until 2020.

The ECJ's ruling on the Supreme Court retirement law took place within the context of a broader battle between Brussels and the PiS government over the sweeping judicial changes it has introduced since taking 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.

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