The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) decided today that Polish authorities must halt the appointment of new judges to the Supreme Court while it checks if Poland’s contested new law on the Supreme Court is legal under EU law. Polish authorities were called to restore the Supreme Court to its composition before April 2018, when the law came into force.
In response to the news, Covadonga de la Campa, Interim Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office, said:
“Today’s court order makes it clear that it is unacceptable for Poland to ignore the EU’s most fundamental principles, in defiance of ongoing legal proceedings before the EU’s top court.”
“Anything but immediate and full compliance with this binding court order would clearly show, once again, that the Polish authorities have complete disregard for the rule of law.”
“Polish authorities have been hastily appointing new judges despite the ongoing infringement case and Article 7 proceedings. It is alarming that, despite the rule of law being one of the cornerstones of the EU, things have gone this far.”
“Ousting a third of the Supreme Court judges is nothing but a purge and an attempt to assert political control over the judiciary. The European Commission’s move to halt the government’s actions is a welcome step on an issue, which is of great importance not only for Poland but also for the European Union as a whole.”
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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, 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 irremovability of judges. The European Commission also asked the CJEU to order interim measures, restoring Poland’s Supreme Court to its situation 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. So far, Polish authorities have shown little willingness to backtrack on its contested reforms of the judiciary, despite clear calls to the contrary from the European Commission, EU leaders, the Venice Commission and a wide range of other national and international bodies and organisations.