Poland could be thrown into a full blown constitutional crisis today as a long-running standoff between the government and judiciary threatens to reach a dramatic climax.
Under laws introduced earlier this year by the Polish parliament, a mandatory retirement age of 65 will come into effect today for all supreme court justices.
This would result in the immediate dismissal of 27 of the 74 judges currently serving on the court which, combined with plans to expand its total number to 120, “would give the government the power to appoint almost two-thirds of supreme court judges from scratch”
This would result in the immediate dismissal of 27 of the 74 judges currently serving on the court which, combined with plans to expand its total number to 120, “would give the government the power to appoint almost two-thirds of supreme court judges from scratch”.
Judges and opponents of the government argue the new law threatens judicial independence. However, the government has vowed to enforce the new legislation, potentially going as far as blocking judges from entering the court building today.
One of those who could be barred is the president of the supreme court, Małgorzata Gersdorf, whose six-year term is not scheduled to end until 2020.
She told the Guardian: “It doesn’t happen in well-developed countries that the executive and the legislative branches destroy the judiciary. With no guarantees of basic freedoms, the fundamental rights of Polish citizens will be destroyed sooner or later.”
The judges can have their mandate extended on application to the president of Poland, “which has raised fears of undue political influence over the court”
the passage of the law today “is only the most recent in a string of attacks on the Polish judiciary since PiS took power in 2015”, including new restrictions limiting the independence of the Constitutional Tribunal, the fast-tracking of appointments of party-affiliated judges and the use of state funds to smear judges on billboards.
But the legislation has drawn particularly fierce opposition from within Poland with huge protests planned for this week.
It has also drawn the ire of the European Commission which has announced it intends to take the Polish government to the European Court of Justice on the grounds that “these measures undermine the principle of judicial independence”.
It is just the latest step in an increasingly acrimonious relationship between the Polish government and the EU. In December last year, amid fears of Poland's drift towards authotitarianism, the Commission triggered Article 7, a legal process that could strip Poland of its EU voting rights, for the first time in the bloc’s history.