Poland acts on EU injunction to reinstate forcibly retired judges

Brussels has been in bad-tempered talks with Warsaw over judiciary reforms for two years

An anti-government protest in support of free courts in front of the supreme court building in Warsaw. Photograph: Kacper Pempel/File Photo/Reuters

An anti-government protest in support of free courts in front of the supreme court building in Warsaw. Photograph: Kacper Pempel/File Photo/Reuters

 

Poland’s ruling conservative government has moved to reinstate supreme court judges it forcibly retired, acting on an injunction issued by Europe’s highest court.

On Wednesday the Law and Justice (PiS) party submitted the relevant legislation on the court to the Sejm parliament, a rare reversal in a two-year stand-off with the EU on controversial judicial reforms.

The move came just as Polish opposition parties pressed in Warsaw for an investigation into a growing corruption scandal involving the financial regulator. The regulator, Marek Chrzanowski, resigned last week after allegedly demanding a 40 million zloty (€9.3 million) payment from the owner of two struggling banks.

After a week of negative headlines and falling public support, the Polish government announced legislation on Wednesday to reinstate retired judges “in line with the expectations of the Court of Justice of the European Union”.

Last month the court of justice issued an injunction against Poland to halt judicial appointments and reinstate retired judges, until it hears a complaint that laws forcing their retirement at 65, and other reforms, undermine the rule of law, separation of powers and judicial independence in Poland.

“If the legislation comes into force, these judges will be able to return to the supreme court,” said Marek Ast, a PiS government MP, on Polish radio.

Legal limbo

Last week the court in Luxembourg held a hearing on interim measures that have left many Polish court judges, including its president, in a legal limbo since July.

For two years the European Commission has been locked in bad-tempered talks with Warsaw over its reforms of both the supreme court and constitutional tribunal. Warsaw says its changes are essential to break open encrusted, crony-filled structures but Brussels sees the moves as breaching EU fundamental rights.

Last December the commission took the unprecedented step of triggering article 7 of the EU Treaty against Poland over the reforms, a legal procedure that could end in sanctions being imposed.

Warsaw’s first step to roll back its supreme court legislation came hours after a new poll showed support for PiS had fallen five points to 33 per cent. Support for the opposition Civic Platform (PO) jumped five points, to 26 per cent, in the Kantar poll for private broadcaster TVN.

PO’s bounce in support comes as it demands a parliamentary inquiry into financial regulator Marek Chrzanowski. Polish billionaire Leszek Czarnecki, who controls troubled banks Getin Noble and Idea, claims Mr Chrzanowski said the regulator’s “support” was assured if he hired a specific lawyer and paid him 40 million zloty.

According to media reports, Mr Czarnecki claims to have recordings of the conversations in question. Mr Chrzanowski, appointed by the PiS government, has called the charges a “dishonest and groundless” provocation and said he resigned to ensure stability in the banking industry.

So far the government has rejected opposition calls for a parliamentary inquiry into the scandal. Opposition parties question whether a proposed investigation by Poland’s anti-corruption agency CBA would be politically independent. Some 58 per cent of Poles say they want an independent investigation into the allegations.

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