Head of Poland's top court vows to resist removal

Małgorzata Gersdorf

Małgorzata Gersdorf

Introduced by Poland's Law and Justice (PiS) government, the new retirement age came into force on Tuesday, compelling more than a third of the Supreme Court's 73 judges to step down.

Polish Judge Malgorzata Gersdorf walked into the Supreme Court building on Wednesday morning, defying new legislation forcing her to retire as court president and putting the judiciary on a collision course with the government.

The protests come as Supreme Court First President Malgorzata Gersdorf is being forced to resign under the legislation that lowers the mandatory retirement age for justices from 70 to 65, a change that could force one in the court's every three judges out.

Addressing the European Parliament on Wednesday in Strasbourg, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki defended his government's overhaul of the judiciary. It said it was launching an "infringement procedure", which could result in Poland being referred to the European Court of Justice. Critics counter that it is PiS which is systematically dismantling any post-Communist institutions created to rein in government's power and protect democracy.

Hailing from a renowned Warsaw family with deep roots in the legal profession, Gersdorf's father Miroslaw was also a respected law professor and judge.

This is expected to force 27 judges out of 72 off the bench in a move that Gersdorf has described as a "purge".

Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said swift action was needed to "avoid irreparable damage to the independence of the Supreme Court".

A friend quoted anonymously by the Polish edition of Newsweek says that her dissident activity was limited as she did not want to risk spending time in a communist jail.

Under the measures due to come into effect at midnight on Tuesday, almost 37 percent of Supreme Court judges will be forced to retire unless they are granted an extension by Duda, a PiS ally.

Around 4,000 people - according to the Warsaw town hall - gathered outside the Supreme Court in the capital, many shouting "free courts", "shame" and "constitution" and carrying banners and flags of Poland and the EU.

This latest showdown between the judges, the president and his party is happening on the heels of an announcement Monday by the European Commission - the executive arm of the EU - that it has taken legal action against Poland over the new judicial clampdown laws, which it said "undermine the principle of judicial independence, including the irremovability of judges".

The changes have drawn formal criticism from the European Union.

Earlier the government already took control of ordinary courts and the constitutional court. Yet, she said she is expecting President Andrzej Duda will tell her to go during a meeting later in the day.

Poland faces the threat of losing its voting rights in the European Union under a procedure launched late previous year over judiciary reforms.

Warsaw faces the threat of losing its voting rights in the bloc under a procedure launched late past year over judiciary reforms.

She grew up in the same leafy Warsaw neighbourhood as powerful PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, regarded as being the mastermind behind the controversial judicial reforms and Poland's de facto decision-maker.

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