Polish parliamentarians have voted to reverse legislation that would have forced the early retirement of supreme court judges, in a move that sees Poland comply with a ruling by the European Court of Justice. On Wednesday Polish MPs in the lower house of parliament voted to repeal a law that would have lowered the retirement age for supreme court judges from 70 to 65, forcing the immediate retirement of 27 of the court’s 72 judges. On Friday, the Polish senate followed suit and also voted to change the law. The planned change in rules has now gone to President Andrzej Duda to be signed into law.
The EU brought Poland to court over the lowering of the retirement age last April, accusing Warsaw of undermining the independence of the courts and politicising the selection process for new judges. Chief Justice Malgorzata Gersdorf, the president of Poland’s Supreme Court called the law a “purge of the Supreme Court conducted under the guise of retirement reform”, while civil society groups warned that the early retirements would allow the ruling PiS to pack the courts with compliant judges to rubber stamp the government’s ultra conservative agenda.
Warsaw had defended the reforms as necessary to rejuvenate the Supreme Court which it said harboured communist era judges and was tainted by corruption and inefficiency. Rejecting this argument the ECJ ruled that the forced retirements should be halted and the affected judges reinstated.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki met with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on the sidelines of the Brexit negotiations in Brussels on Sunday where they discussed the issue. It was a very positive conversation that confirmed … that the changes we have made … are perceived very well, very positively, at the European Commission,” Morawiecki told reporters, adding: “We will see what further course events will take.”
While Poland’s acceptance of the ECJ ruling may help to smooth things over with Brussels, serious points of contention remain. Poland is still the subject of an article 7 procedure initiated against it by Brussels for what it sees as the clear threat to the independence of the judiciary posed by the Polish reforms. The procedure, which had never been invoked before, could lead to Poland’s voting rights being suspended; however, this is unlikely given the requirement for a unanimous vote in favour and the fact that Hungary’s Viktor Orban has already said that he would not endorse the measure.