The Latest: Supreme Court shake-up stirs protests in Poland
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The Latest on the overhaul of Poland’s judicial system (all times local):
Anti-government protests have broken out in Warsaw and several other Polish cities in defense of the country’s constitution, judicial independence and the rule of law.
Thousands of people gathered Tuesday night in front of the Supreme Court building, where they shouted “Free courts!” and “Down with dictatorship!”
There were also protests in Gdansk, Krakow, Lodz, Katowice and Wroclaw.
The protests come as a lower retirement age takes effect for Poland’s Supreme Court justices. The law is forcing the chief justice and as many as one-third of the court’s sitting judges to step down.
Government leaders say they are trying to make the courts more democratic by making judges more accountable to voters.
Critics say the ruling Law and Justice party is destroying Poland’s democratic order by imposing excessive political control over the courts.
An aide to Polish President Andrzej Duda says the Supreme Court’s chief justice has no choice but to retire even though she says her term runs until 2020 under the Constitution of Poland.
The forced resignation of Supreme Court First President Malgorzata Gersdorf comes as a new law takes effect that lowers the mandatory retirement age for justices from 70 to 65, forcing more than a third out.
Presidential adviser Pawel Mucha told reporters on Tuesday that Gersdorf’s retirement results from the “force of law.”
Justices who reached the new retirement age but didn’t want to step down were required to request extensions from the president. The 65-year-old Gersdorf didn’t, arguing that the Constitution set the duration of her tenure.
Mucha says the chief justice’s failure to apply for an extension prevents her from remaining on the bench.
The head of Poland’s Supreme Court has vowed to resist the government’s steps to remove her from the post under a new retirement regulations that she has called a “purge.”
Malgorzata Gersdorf insisted Tuesday that her term runs until 2020, as guaranteed by the constitution. Yet, she said she is expecting President Andrzej Duda will tell her to go during a meeting later in the day.
A new law adopted by the ruling right-wing party is forcing Gersdorf and many other Supreme Court judges aged 65 and above to retire, as of Wednesday.
The law has drawn condemnation from the European Union, which has opened sanctioning procedures that could potentially strip Poland of its EU voting rights. The government insists it is improving Poland’s justice system.