Poland supreme court appointment raises fresh fears about independence

Malgorzata Manowska, who has links to ruling PiS party, chosen as court president

The battle for control of Poland’s judiciary has entered a new round after the appointment as supreme court president of a former deputy justice minister with links to the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Malgorzata Manowska (56), a judge in the court’s civil chamber, has been chosen by President Andrzej Duda to succeed Malgorzata Gersdorf – a vocal opponent of PiS and seen as the last politically independent senior judicial voice.

Prof Gersdorf retired in April and a body of judges met at the weekend to propose nominees, including Ms Manowska. She is the author of textbooks used by law students and is the outgoing head of the state school for judges and prosecutors.

From 2005 to 2007 she served as deputy justice minister – alongside Mr Duda – to Zbigniew Ziobro. As justice minister and state prosecutor in one now, Mr Ziobro is seen as chief architect of a controversial overhaul of Polish courts.


Deputy justice minister Sebastian Kaleta said Ms Manowska would make a “great” head of the court. Opposition figures are not convinced, fearing her appointment is one of the final moves by the government to capture the judiciary.

“Law and Justice is trying to install a former politician in the function of first president of the supreme court,” tweeted Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz, from the opposition Civic Platform (PO). “Such things don’t fit into any conception of a democratic state of law. This is a standard for a dictatorship.”


As well as her previous career working with Mr Ziobro, her appointment is seen by critics as tainted as a consequence of other recent judicial reforms. Among those who were allowed vote for a new supreme court president were judges appointed by the president in legally contested circumstances – and viewed as illegitimate by many inside the court and outside.

Their backing ensured Ms Manowska made the shortlist – though not with a majority of support of other judges. In a ranking by Polish judicial body Iustitia, the new supreme court president received just one out of a possible eight points for independence.The new court president says she has never made a secret of her political ties but that she had remained silent on political matters since leaving government.

“No politician has ever influenced me in the sphere of jurisprudence, nor even tried,” she said during hearings on Saturday.

PiS says its reforms are aimed at streamlining structures and eliminating cronyism in the judiciary and other lingering influences from the communist era.

In Tuesday’s Frankfurter Allgemeine daily, Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki noted how, after German unification, judges and state prosecutors of the former East Germany were investigated and only 30 per cent left in office.

“In Poland we never had the chance to clean up our system in this way,” he said, a nod to Poland’s transition to democracy after 1989. “Everything is happening in harmony with the law and the constitution.”

The European Commission has challenged the reforms at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on several fronts. It secured a CEJU injunction against a controversial panel to discipline judges, pending a final ruling. An interim supreme court president has now reinstated the body, in defiance of the Luxembourg court.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin