Małgorzata Gersdorf arrived at Poland’s Supreme Court on Wednesday, claiming that a new law cannot change her constitutional term as its president, but a senior government official insisted she was now retired.
Deputy Justice Minister Michał Wójcik said that “no one can stop” Gersdorf from going to the court, but added that “she cannot take any action on behalf of the Supreme court” because it would be “against the rules”.
On July 4, a new law regulating the Supreme Court came into effect, setting a retirement age of 65 for judges. Under the law, judges at or over that age can ask the Polish president to allow them to continue to serve, but Gersdorf, who turned 65 a few months ago, refused to do so.
Gersdorf insisted she will preside over the Supreme Court until 2020. She has previously said that Poland’s new law on the Supreme Court could not take precedence over the constitution.
According to a Supreme Court spokesman, Gersdorf cut short a holiday to return to work on Wednesday.
Asked by journalists why she had returned, she said, cited by the PAP news agency, that she came back because of the “new law on the Supreme Court and an attack on judge Józef Iwulski”.
Iwulski came under fire by Polish media after stepping into the role of the court’s president on July 4, when Gersdorf took a holiday, the same day the new Supreme Court law entered into effect.
According to media reports, Iwulski has admitted to being on a panel of judges that convicted oppositionists during the Martial Law period of Poland’s communist era.
Iwulski said that, in at least one case, he had disagreed with the panel’s verdict, according to media reports.
Gersdorf defended Iwulski, saying that he would have risked jail time if he had not ruled in communist-era political trials.
The constitution – the highest law in Poland – says that the head of the Supreme Court is selected for a six-year term. Gersdorf was appointed to the role in 2014.
But the constitution also says that parliament can, by passing an ordinary law, set the age at which judges retire.
Earlier this month, the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm launched a procedure against Warsaw over its reform of the Supreme Court, saying that it undermined “the principle of judicial independence, including the irremovability of judges”.
The move followed the European Commission last December taking the unprecedented step of triggering Article 7 of the EU Treaty against Poland, stepping up pressure on Warsaw over judicial reforms and possibly paving the way for sanctions being imposed on Poland.
But Poland’s governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, which came to power in late 2015, has said that sweeping changes were needed to reform an inefficient and sometimes corrupt judicial system tainted by the communist past, accusing judges of being an elite, self-serving clique often out of touch with the problems of ordinary citizens. (vb/pk)