The ICJ today called on President Andrzej Duda to sign legislation that would require the reinstatement of the Supreme Court justices that were forcibly “retired” in July 2018.
On 21 November 2018, the lower house of the Polish Parliament (Sejm) approved Draft Law no. 3013, which would amend the Law on the Supreme Court. This amendment would ensure that the Supreme Court and Supreme Administrative Court justices who “retired … return in office on the day of entry into force of this Law” (Article 2.1).
The Minister of Justice has stated that the Law is being adopted to implement the EU Court of Justice interim measures issued in the infringement proceedings against Poland for the failure to respect the tenure of its Supreme Court justices.
“The draft law is a step in the right direction to implement the interim measures by the Court of Justice of the EU,” said Massimo Frigo, Senior Legal Adviser for the ICJ Europe and Central Asia Programme.
“It is important that President Duda signs this law promptly to ensure the independence of the judiciary in Poland as well as respect for its obligations under EU law,” he added.
The ICJ however is concerned that this law still refers to the Supreme Court justices to be reinstated as “retired.”
The forced “retirement” of one-third of the Supreme Court Justices constituted effectively a disguised dismissal in breach of international law and EU law standards on the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.
Any reference to the “retirement” of the Supreme Court Justices should therefore be deleted.
“The Government’s intention that these measures be issued to implement the Court of Justice’s interim measures suggests that these measures are not intended to be permanent,” said Massimo Frigo.
“The Court of Justice and the European institutions should pursue the Article 7 procedure and the infringement proceedings until the forced judicial “retirements” are fully rescinded and no further similar attempts are made to undermine judicial independence and function.”
A law on the Supreme Court, which entered into effect in July 2018, attempted to force the “retirement” of 27 of the 72 Supreme Court judges, including the First President, by lowering the mandatory retirement age for its judges from 70 to 65 years.
The ICJ has condemned the “forced retirement” of the 27 Supreme Court Justices as violating the security of tenure of judges in direct contravention of the principle of judicial independence, as expressed in international law and standards.
These include the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, Council of Europe standards, the European Court of Human Rights’ jurisprudence and the rule of law principles enshrined in article 2 of the Treaty on European Union.
An ICJ letter of 11 July 2018, signed by 22 senior judges from all regions of the world, urged the Polish government to act immediately to reinstate the forcibly retired judges in office.
The European Commission has recognized the current situation as undermining “the principle of judicial independence, including the irremovability of judges” and has triggered a procedure under Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union that could ultimately lead to suspension of Poland’s EU voting rights.
The Commission has also launched infringement proceedings against Poland in respect of the law on the Supreme Court.
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