Polish president names top court judges despite protests

2 min

Warsaw (AFP)

Poland's president appointed 27 new judges to the supreme court Wednesday, pushing ahead with a controversial judicial reform that has put Poland in the EU's crosshairs.

Andrzej Duda proceeded with the nominations despite a supreme administrative court ruling suspending the procedure pending a decision on the way new judges are selected.

The president of the Iustitia association of Polish judges, Krystian Markiewicz, condemned Duda for "not respecting the separation of powers".

But lawyer Pawel Mucha, an advisor to Duda, told reporters: "The head of state is not part of the proceedings initiated by the supreme administrative court."

He was thus free to use his constitutional prerogative to appoint judges "in the public interest".

At issue is a law introduced by the right-wing government that lowers the age at which supreme court judges must retire from 70 to 65.

This has hastened the departure of judges appointed under previous governments, allowing the appointment of figures seen as loyal by Warsaw's current leadership.

Critics argue the reform, which came into effect in July, puts the judicial system under government control and so threatens democracy.

But the Law and Justice (PiS) government argues the changes are needed to tackle corruption and overhaul a system still tainted by the communist era.

The reforms have led to protests in Poland and also drawn concern from the European Union.

Last month, the EU referred Poland to its top court for a move that it says violates the independence of its supreme court.

The Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice could impose fines if it finds Poland in breach of EU law.

The EU first sounded the alarm over Polish judicial reforms shortly after the PiS won elections in 2015.

Brussels has since engaged in more than two years of talks, but Warsaw has largely ignored its warnings that the changes would weaken democratic checks and balances.

In December, the Commission triggered unprecedented proceedings against Poland under Article 7 of the EU treaty, citing "systemic threats" to the rule of law.

While this could eventually see Warsaw's EU voting rights suspended, Warsaw's neighbour Hungary has vowed to veto any such penalty.