Poland Ordered to Halt Purge of High Court Judges

(CN) – The European Court of Justice ruled Friday that Poland must stop enforcing a new law that pushed some judges on its highest court into early retirement and reinstate the ones that have already been forced out.

The law, which took effect earlier this year, lowered the retirement age for Poland Supreme Court judges from 70 to 65, which had the effect of forcing 27 of the court’s 73 judges into retirement.

Anti-government protesters hold up the Polish Constitution while rallying in front of Poland’s Supreme Court building in Warsaw on July 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

The overhaul of the country’s judicial system by its ruling right-wing Law and Justice Party led the European Union to take Poland to the bloc’s highest court last month. It also prompted protests from Polish demonstrators.

The fight has been in the making since 2015 when the Law and Justice Party – led by current Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki – won elections and became the first government with a clear parliamentary majority in post-communist Poland.

The ruling party then passed a series of laws and measures that critics say undermine the rule of law and target opposition voices. The government’s supporters say it was necessary to overhaul a flawed justice system ruled by a caste of corrupt judges.

Last December, the European Commission took the unprecedented step to trigger sanctions proceedings against Poland because of these moves. Poland became an EU member state in 2004.

On Friday, the European Court of Justice issued an injunction at the request of the EU’s executive commission ordering Poland to “immediately suspend” its application of the controversial law.

The decision – which applies retroactively to the judges already forced out – is an interim ruling and a final judgment will come at a later time.

In a press release, the EU’s highest court cited the urgency of the situation.

“The fact that the Supreme Court is a court of last instance…[means] that there would be a real risk of serious and irreparable damage to individuals if the interim measures were not adopted,” the court said.

Poland indicted Friday that it will honor the injunction. Its justice minister said in response to the decision that the country “is an EU member and will act in accordance with EU law,” according to an EU Observer report.

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