EC’s censure of Supreme Court reform 'baseless': Polish govt

Poland's deputy PM Jarosław Gowin. Photo: PAP/Waldemar Deska

On Friday, Poland’s government submitted its response to the European Commission concerning the controversial judicial reform, denying allegations of rule of law infringement and explaining its position on justice system overhaul in an effort to end long-lasting standoff between Warsaw and Brussels.

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The government’s response, whose contents were disclosed to the public by the Polish Press Agency, came in the wake of a recent comment of the European Commission. Known officially as the “reasoned opinion”, the statement formed yet another step in EU’s infringement proceedings, focusing on the much-discussed Supreme Court report which sparked controversy at home and abroad amidst accusations of the country’s judiciary being politicised by the ruling party.

In its statement, the European Commission alleged that the new law on Poland’s Supreme Court would strip Polish judges of their independence and that changing the judicial retirement age would go right against the principle of irremovability of judges.

In its response, Poland’s government maintained the view that judicial overhaul issues lie within the scope of competence of national governments, not the EU, adding that no existing EC regulations govern the structural minutiae of the judiciary in independent member states, including provisions on retirement age. It also cited several important procedural safeguards such as judicial immunity, right to fair pay and prohibition on political activism or business activities among judges, all of which help uphold the principle of impartiality under Polish law.

An added point made by Poland’s government to address the issue of lowering the retirement age of judges is that all that such retirement entails is that the judge can no longer take part in court proceedings. Every judge continues to enjoy both a judicial immunity and a considerable salary even following his or her retirement, which the government believes goes a long way towards protecting the judiciary against undue influence. Efficiency is therefore the only cause for having a specific retirement age in place, the government claims, refuting accusations that it wants to replace “inconvenient” members of the judiciary by forcing them into early retirement.

With this unwavering narrative, the government seems determined to press on with its divisive reform even despite looming threat of being sued to the European Court of Justice, its stance apparently confirmed by Poland’s deputy PM Jarosław Gowin, who said during a radio interview that “decisive and rapid changes to the justice system were a necessary measure”.

Mr Gowin, who currently serves as Science Minister but who had at one point been in charge of the Justice Ministry under the previous Civic Platform government, said that the fierce resistance to the reform among legal professionals is not surprising, given that back during his term as Justice Minister he was also forced to deal with reluctance towards any attempts at an overhaul of the existing system.

“We must complete our judiciary reform before the end of this term so that Poland’s courts can begin operating in a stable manner as soon as possible,” Mr Gowin concluded, adding that the way Poland’s citizens perceive the justice system is of far greater importance than the sentiment shared by members of the judiciary.