The European Commission launched a new case against Poland over changes to the Supreme Court which it claims undermines judicial independence in the country. The new law, which comes into force on Tuesday, lowers the retirement age for Supreme Court judges from 70 to 65, which affects one-third of the judges, including the Court’s President Małgorzata Gersdorf. Polish constitution stipulates that this position is a six-year-long term, and she was appointed back in 2014.
“The Commission is of the opinion that these measures undermine the principle of judicial independence, including the irremovability of judges,” it said in a statement.
“While the Polish Supreme Court law has already been discussed in the Rule of Law dialogue between the Commission and the Polish authorities, it has not been satisfactorily addressed through this process. The Commission believes that the introduction of a consultation of the National Council for the Judiciary (NCJ) does not constitute an effective safeguard, as argued by the Polish authorities. The NCJ’s opinion is not binding and is based on vague criteria. Moreover, following the reform of 8 December 2017, the NCJ is now composed of judges-members appointed by the Polish Parliament – which is not in line with European standards on judicial independence,” the Commission added.
“This law is currently binding and we will not be changing anything here. For the time being our stance is that we are right,” Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz argued.
He added that Poland would argue in the European Court of Justice that changes to the judiciary are the responsibility of national governments.
Back in December last year, in an unprecedented move the European Commission asked other EU member states to declare that Poland’s judiciary overhaul constitutes “a clear risk of a serious breach of EU values.” If the states agree, although it’s an unlikely scenario, Warsaw’s voting rights would be suspended.
Other EU proposal, regarding the upcoming bloc’s multiannual financial framework, is to tie some of the funds to the rule of law.
The Supreme Court, among other things, rules on the validity of elections.