EU top court condemns Poland’s law forcing Supreme Court judges to retire
The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled today that Poland’s contested Law on the Supreme Court is in breach of EU law. Under an interim decision from the CJEU from November 2018, Polish authorities had already been ordered to restore the Supreme Court to its composition before April 2018, when the law came into force.
In response to the news, Eve Geddie, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office, said:
“Today the European Union’s top court has confirmed what we have long been saying, that the Polish government acted against EU law when it attempted to force almost a third of Supreme Court judges to retire and attempted to exert control over the judiciary.”
The amendment of the Law on the Supreme Court is part of a broader “reform” of the judiciary in Poland. Amnesty International considers that these changes effectively politicize the judiciary and undermine its independence.
“Despite numerous procedures going on to challenge this “reform”, the Polish authorities have continued to harass and discipline judges who they presumably considered to be unfavourable to their cause. It is imperative that they return to the respect of EU law. Today’s ruling is significant not only for Poland but for other European Union countries who think that they can breach human rights with impunity.”
“We call on Member States to follow suit and issue a clear call on Polish authorities to change their course and fully restore the independence of the judiciary.”
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Amnesty International has been documenting the situation in Poland’s judiciary since the beginning of the “reforms” in 2016. On 4 July 2019, the organization will launch a report “Poland: Free Courts, Free People” documenting the impact of the changes on human rights.
The Polish Law on the Supreme Court, which entered into force on 3 April 2018, lowers the retirement age of Supreme Court judges from 70 to 65, putting roughly a third of Supreme Court judges at risk of forced retirement, including the First President, whose mandate expires only in 2020 under the Polish Constitution.
On 24 September 2018, the European Commission took the government of Poland to the CJEU on grounds that the Polish law on the Supreme Court is incompatible with EU law because it undermines the principle of judicial independence, including the fact that judges should not be removed. In October 2018 the CJEU granted interim measures requested by the European Commission, meaning Poland’s Supreme Court had to be restored to its makeup before 3 April 2018.
In December 2017, the European Commission initiated so-called Article 7.1 TEU proceedings with regard to Poland, beginning a process that could lead to sanctions, including a loss of voting rights in the EU. Earlier this year, the European Commission started infringement proceedings regarding the disciplinary regime for judges. Another case brought by the European Commission, regarding the common courts, as well as several requests for preliminary rulings from Poland, are currently pending before the CJEU. So far, Polish authorities have shown little willingness to backtrack on the contested reforms of the judiciary, despite clear calls from the European Commission, EU leaders, the Venice Commission and a wide range of other national and international bodies and organizations.