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Polish MPs debate bill to prevent Supreme Court 'stalemate': PM

PR dla Zagranicy
Grzegorz Siwicki 19.07.2018 16:00
Poland’s MPs were on Thursday debating a bill aimed at preventing a "stalemate" in the country’s Supreme Court, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters, amid a row over whether the chief justice up to now has the right to stay in her job.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. Photo: W. Kusiński/PRPolish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. Photo: W. Kusiński/PR

The bill, the latest in a raft of moves designed to overhaul the country’s court system, aims to allow vacant judicial positions to be filled more quickly and to speed up the appointment of a new Supreme Court head to replace Małgorzata Gersdorf, according to officials.

The bill was needed "to prevent a stalemate" within the court, Morawiecki told a news conference on Thursday.

Tensions over Supreme Court

Gersdorf on Wednesday caught many by surprise when she arrived at the Supreme Court, arguing that no ordinary law could cut short her constitutional term as chief justice. But a senior government official insisted she was now retired.

On July 4, a new law regulating the Supreme Court came into effect, setting a retirement age of 65 for judges. Under the law, judges at or over that age can ask the Polish president to allow them to continue to serve, but Gersdorf, who turned 65 a few months ago, refused to do so.

Gersdorf on Wednesday insisted she was constitutionally entitled to preside over the Supreme Court until 2020. She has previously said that Poland’s new law on the Supreme Court could not take precedence over the constitution.

The constitution – the highest law in Poland – says that the head of the Supreme Court is selected for a six-year term. Gersdorf was appointed to the role in 2014.

But the constitution also says that parliament can, by passing an ordinary law, set the age at which judges retire.

Judge under fire

According to a Supreme Court spokesman, Gersdorf cut short a holiday to return to work on Wednesday.

Asked by journalists why she had returned, she said, cited by the PAP news agency, that she came back because of the "new law on the Supreme Court and an attack on judge Józef Iwulski."

Iwulski came under fire by Polish media after stepping into the role of the court’s boss on July 4.

According to media reports, Iwulski has admitted to being on a panel of judges that convicted opposition activists during the martial law period of Poland's communist era.

Iwulski said that, in at least one case, he had disagreed with the panel's verdict, according to media reports.

Gersdorf defended Iwulski, saying that he would have risked jail time if he had not ruled in communist-era political trials.

Polish judicial system 'deeply flawed': PM

Poland's ruling majority has long argued that some of those responsible for communist-era crimes in Poland were never brought to justice because the country’s court system remained marred by communist holdovers.

The country's prime minister in December published an opinion piece in the Washington Examiner in which he argued that Poland’s judicial system was “deeply flawed” and that the country’s ruling conservatives had been elected with a mandate to overhaul it.

Dispute with Brussels

Poland’s Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said last month his country would defend its right to reform its justice system amid a dispute with Brussels over a punitive procedure against Warsaw.

The European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, this month launched a procedure against Warsaw over its overhaul of the Supreme Court, saying that the changes undermined “the principle of judicial independence, including the irremovability of judges”.

The move followed the European Commission last December taking the unprecedented step of triggering Article 7 of the EU Treaty against Poland, stepping up pressure on Warsaw over judicial reforms and potentially paving the way for sanctions being imposed on Poland.

But Poland's governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, which swept to power in late 2015, has said that sweeping changes were needed to reform an inefficient and sometimes corrupt judicial system tainted by the communist past, accusing judges of being an elite, self-serving clique often out of touch with the problems of ordinary citizens.


Source: PAP/IAR

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