Poland’s Chief Justice Defies Government as Crisis Deepens

The 65-year-old head of Poland’s Supreme Court, Chief Justice Małgorzata Gersdof, turned up for work on July 4, defying new judicial reforms in the country which will force senior judges to retire at 65 instead of 70.

Professor Gersdof was supposed to retire at midnight on July 3, but with a replacement already named she arrived at work to resist the law which she had deemed “a purge of the Supreme Court conducted under the guise of retirement reform.” She was met by a wave of supporters, who chanted “constitution” – continuing the mass protests which began across many cities in Poland the previous evening. Allegedly, among the protestors was Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, the current Mayor of Warsaw. Lech Wałęsa has also suggested he will protest, saying on his Facebook that the reforms were “enough to destroy Poland”.

The government claims the legal reforms are necessary because of a policy of de-Communisation and improving efficiency, though they have been met with fierce opposition, both domestic and international – with the EU challenging their anti-democratic nature. Unless Poland responds sufficiently to the EU’s challenges, they could risk losing voting rights and funding. EU spokesman Margaritis Schinas claimed that the infringement procedure against the new reforms in Poland was a “matter of urgency.” In talks in the European Parliament, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has faced criticism for the  government’s refusal to back down over the reforms – he is scheduled to take part in further discussions.

Mrs Gersdof had previously stated that she felt her “status has not changed,” and refused to apply for presidential assent – as the law allows – to stay on in her position, instead arguing that it was against the constitution to force her to retire. Of the 73 Supreme Court judges, 27 are 65 or over – though 11 refused to apply to continue their work. Gersdof has publicly criticised the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party in the past, saying last month that it was “not an option” to apply for an extended position. She also said that the law marked a worrying trend in Polish politics where  “the fundamental rights of Polish citizens will be destroyed sooner or later.”