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Poland risks pariah status with crackdown on judges

07 July 2018

President Andrzej Duda announces Supreme Court chief Malgorzata Gersdorf will retire on July 4, but she insists she will come to work as usual.

Under new laws regulating the work of Poland's Supreme Court, Tuesday marks the retirement of Supreme Court judges aged 65 and over. That forces Gersdorf, who is 65, and as many as one-third of the court's 73 sitting judges to step down, unless they ask the president for special permission to remain and he grants it.

Mass protests erupted in Poland last summer over new judicial laws, with numerous same Poles who opposed communism three decades ago taking to the streets.

Presidential aide Pawel Mucha told state media Tuesday that Gersdorf's forced retirement would be "in line with binding laws" and that current judge Józef Iwulski would fill her position.

Besides the dismissal of the 27 judges, the National Judiciary Council - which following reforms previous year is controlled by the ruling party - can also now nominate more than 50 new judges, Buras said.

An authoritarian drift that has cost Poland swingeing touches of attention of European Commission, which before sanctioning dossier for reform of justice, which can suppose even economic sanctions, had already activated against giant of East Called Article 7 of Union, nuclear button that can snatch Warsaw right to vote within EU.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki faced questions about the changes at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

"Judges are more independent now than they were in the past", Morawiecki countered.

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Unless Poland responds sufficiently to the EU's challenges, they could risk losing voting rights and funding.

The European Commission opened a fresh legal case against Poland on Monday over the changes to the Supreme Court, which it says will further undermine judicial independence in the largest ex-communist member of the bloc.

Critics at home and overseas say the ruling party's policies, which also include tighter control of public media, amount to a shift toward authoritarian rule.

Legislation enforcing the retirement of some Supreme Court judges, including the tribunal's chief, is at the centre of a conflict between Poland and the European Union. But EU officials have sharply disagreed, saying Poland willingly signed on to EU rules when it joined the community, and that the courts must be counted on to also uphold EU contracts and law.

Hundreds of people demonstrate to support the Polish Supreme Court Justice president in front of the Supreme Court building on Wednesday in Warsaw.

The Warsaw government says the reforms are necessary to improve the accountability of a system that dates back to communist times.

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets across Poland on Tuesday night as the government prepared to carry out a radical revamping of the country's Supreme Court.

Judges in Poland are "experiencing political pressure" in connection with the judicial reforms, according to Amnesty International.

Poland risks pariah status with crackdown on judges