The head of Poland’s Supreme Court has arrived for work surrounded by hundreds of supporters, rejecting a controversial law forcing dozens of senior judges to retire early.
Chief Justice Malgorzata Gersdorf, 65, had been told to step down at midnight on Tuesday and a replacement was named. She has branded the reforms, which require judges to retire at 65 instead of 70, a “purge”.
Poland’s prime minister defended his government’s drive to impose changes.
“Every EU country has the right to develop its judicial system according to its own traditions,” Mateusz Morawiecki said in a speech to the European Parliament on Wednesday.
Up to 40% of Supreme Court judges are expected to be forced out, as part of changes which the government argues will help fight corruption and replace judges who date back to a communist era that collapsed in 1989.carrying out a purge under the guise of retirement reform
On Monday the European Union launched legal action against Poland’s right-wing government, saying the law undermined judicial independence. Some Euro MPs listened to the Polish leader’s speech behind signs that read “rule of law”.
“If there is a systemic threat to the rule of law, we cannot simply turn a blind eye,” said EU Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis.
“We cannot simply say it is a purely national issue.”
“So, where the separation of powers is weakened in one country or worse, the independence of the judiciary is challenged in another, it becomes a European issue, which affects our whole community.”
There were protests in several Polish cities against the reforms late on Tuesday, including outside the Supreme Court in Warsaw.
Hundreds of supporters returned on Wednesday morning to greet Prof Gersdorf on her arrival with chants of “constitution” and “we are with you”. A number of colleagues also welcomed her as she addressed the protesters at the entrance, vowing to defend the rule of law.
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