Poland’s Duda Says Seven Judges Must Quit in Court Overhaul

September 11, 2018 Updated: September 11, 2018

WARSAW—Seven Polish Supreme Court judges seeking to work past retirement age will have to step down, according to a decision by President Andrzej Duda on Sept. 11.

The decision by Duda, to allow five out of 12 Supreme Court judges who wanted to stay on to keep their posts, meant in effect that the remaining seven could no longer stay on, presidential aide Pawel Mucha told state news agency PAP.

The measure is part of reforms by Poland’s ruling nationalists. The opposition, the European Union, and rights groups say the overhaul undermines the rule of law in the largest ex-communist EU state.

Through legislation and personnel changes, the Law and Justice party (PiS) has already taken de facto control of much of the judicial system since being elected in 2015, including the constitutional court and prosecutors, who now report directly to the justice minister.

The government says the change is needed to improve the efficiency of the courts and rid the country of a residue of communism, which collapsed in Poland almost 30 years ago. Further negotiations are due to take place with Brussels but so far, Warsaw has offered only cosmetic concessions.

Earlier this year, PiS introduced a law forcing into early retirement more than a third of the judges at the Supreme Court, which validates election results in Poland. New ones would be appointed by the president, a PiS ally.

There are more than 50 judges who are—according to the PiS-imposed law—allowed to rule in the top court, after Duda’s decision to allow the five judges to stay on.

Duda had been expected to name a new acting head of the court, a move that could be seen as an attempt to pressure President of the Supreme Court Malgorzata Gersdorf, who declares that she will remain in her job on the basis of the constitution.