Poland’s Supreme Court Says Judges Should Stay Pending ECJ Decision

August 2, 2018 Updated: August 2, 2018

WARSAW—Poland’s Supreme Court said on Aug. 2 that its judges who want to should stay in place until the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decides whether measures that will effectively allow the government to choose the court’s staff breach EU law.

Court spokesman Justice Michal Laskowski said President Andrzej Duda and the National Judiciary Council (KRS), which decides judicial appointments, should hold off from making any decisions about the court’s members pending the ECJ’s verdict.

“The decision is being sent to the [presidential] Chancellery and the KRS and they both should stop actions … until the ruling is made,” he told a news conference.

The justice ministry is expected to comment on the Supreme Court’s statement later in the day.

The ECJ, the European Union’s top court, is assessing judicial reforms undertaken by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party since it came to power in Poland in 2015.

Judges Refuse to Go

Earlier this month, 22 Supreme Court judges—nearly one-third of the total—were forced into early retirement, but some have refused to go. They include the court’s chief judge Malgorzata Gersdorf, who says her constitutional term does not expire until 2020.

A measure signed into law by president Duda a week ago, as street protests were held across Poland, effectively lets the government choose the next head of the Supreme Court.

The law allows the president, a PiS ally, to grant an extension to judges’ terms, while KRS, whose members include politicians, can give an opinion on who is allowed to hold a judicial position.

The European Union, human rights groups and opposition parties in Poland say these measures and other changes pushed by PiS undermine judicial independence and democracy.

Protests in the Capital

Crowds gathered outside the presidential palace in Warsaw, chanting “shame” on July 26. Many held candles and pens, referring to Duda’s readiness to undersign the newly passed legislation. They shouted “break the pen” and “you will go to prison.”

Since PiS won power in 2015, dozens of judges have been dismissed from the Constitutional Tribunal and the National Judiciary Council, which decides judicial appointments, and recently the Supreme Court.

The European Commission is running an unprecedented rule of law probe that could lead to the suspension of Poland’s voting rights in the 28-member bloc.

PiS, which combines left-leaning economics with nationalist and eurosceptic politics, says an overhaul is needed to make the courts more efficient and eradicate the influence of Poland’s communist past.

The European Commission is running an unprecedented “rule-of-law investigation” that could lead to the suspension of Poland’s voting rights in the 28-member bloc. It has also opened several separate legal cases against Poland, the largest former communist EU state, including some over the Supreme Court.

State news agency PAP said on Aug. 2 that Warsaw had sent its response in that case to the Commission, without giving details.

Poland is the largest former communist state in the European Union.

Epoch Times writer Tom Ozimek contributed to this report.