The International Bar Association has condemned a rule change that reportedly will forcibly retire up to 40% of Poland’s judges.
The ruling Law and Justice Party’s new law was set to come into force at midnight on Tuesday this week.
In response the European Commission has launched an infringement procedure to protect the independence of the Polish Supreme Court.
The Commission says on 3 July, 27 out of 72 Supreme Court judges face the risk of being forced to retire as the law lowers the retirement age of those judges from 70 to 65.
“This measure also applies to the First President of the Supreme Court, whose six-year mandate would be prematurely terminated,” it says.
The IBA’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) has called for an immediate U-turn and for an end to “the persecution of judges”.
“The ongoing ‘state-led campaign of intimidation and harassment’ of which a number of Poland’s judges are complaining; the state’s domination of the National Council of the Judiciary with authority to appoint judges; and the refusal by state officials to adhere to Supreme Court decisions made against them, are blatant assaults on Poland’s judiciary, contrary to the separation of powers and a threat to the rule of law,”says IBAHRI Co-Chair Hans Corell.
“We draw to the attention of Poland’s government the first clause of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, which states, ‘The independence of the judiciary shall be guaranteed by the State and enshrined in the Constitution or the law of the country. It is the duty of all governmental and other institutions to respect and observe the independence of the judiciary’.”
Persecution of judges
IBAHRI says reports indicate that judges who have raised objections or ruled against state officials found to be in violation of the law have been subjected to continued individual attacks, threats of biased disciplinary and criminal proceedings, corruption allegations or hate campaigns.
It refers to a report in The Guardian which says some judges have been summoned before a new “ethics panel” of government-appointed judges and MPs. The newspaper says the panel includes Law and Justice Party MP Krystyna Pawłowicz, who has stated in parliament that certain judges should be sent to North Korean-style concentration camps for “re-education”.
One judge, who was head of the National Council of the Judiciary, told the Guardian he received hundreds of abusive and threatening messages after allegations about his personal life were published in the media and members of his family were targeted.
IBAHRI Co-Chair Michael Kirby is calling on the Polish government to act.
“As a matter of urgency, it is imperative that all possible measures be taken by the government of Poland to return the nation’s judiciary to a position in which its legitimate professional activities can be executed without fear of threats, intimidation, harassment or interference and in accordance with the nation’s Constitution and international human rights standards.
“As a country whose brave citizens suffered greatly in recent decades from attacks on the rule of law and on the independence of the judiciary, Poland has special cause to remember and appreciate the vital importance of preserving human rights and protecting the rule of law and constitutional norms.”
The BBC reports that the head of the Polish Supreme Court, Chief Justice Malgorzata Gersdorf, would go to work as usual hours after the law change came into force.
The BBC quotes Professor Gersdorf as likening the reforms to “a purge”.