Demonstrations drawing thousands of people took place on Thursday evening in about 20 Polish cities to protest against recent judicial reforms. The protesters rallied against the decision of President Andrzej Duda to sign a measure that, in fact, will allow the government to choose the next president of the Supreme Court, an attack on the principle of separation of powers, according to them.
Polish senators ratified the draft law on the election of the new president of the Supreme Court on Tuesday night, as part of a series of judicial reforms that have already allowed the government to control the common law courts, the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS) and the Constitutional Court. As a result, 23 judges, about one-third of the Supreme Court’s judges, were forced to retire at the beginning of the month. But the president of the court, Malgorzata Gersdorf, refused to withdraw, saying her term expires in 2020.
Warsaw defends the changes as necessary to allow it to reform practices and ways of thinking inherited from the communist era.
Poles are not alone in worrying about the changes in the judicial system. The European Union is monitoring the situation closely. Brussels has launched an infringement procedure against Poland. It accuses the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, in power since 2015, of wanting to take control of the entire judicial system and undermining the country’s democratic principles.
The EU’s Court of Justice in Luxembourg (ECJ), delivered an important judgement on Wednesday 25 July. Asked by the Irish High Court, the Court of Justice of the EU had to rule on the case of a Polish national arrested in Ireland, subject to three European arrest warrants issued by Polish judges for trafficking in narcotics. The highest European body considered that Ireland did not have to extradite the national if it considered that the principles of justice were not guaranteed in the country.
Guy Verhofstadt, president of the centrist group in the European Parliament, described the decision as “A ground-breaking decision by the European Court of Justice & clear signal to the European Council to finally react against the undermining of the independence of the judiciary by the PiS government.”