The Irish Times view on Irish judges protesting in Poland: crossing a line
Judiciary’s move to join demonstration over foreign government’s policies is problematic
Supreme Court judge John Mac Menamin will represent his colleagues at a silent protest in Warsaw on Saturday over the erosion of the rule of law in the country. Photograph: Alan Betson
Under the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, Poland has been sliding towards authoritarianism. It has polarised national life by whipping up fear and intolerance, scapegoating minorities and enlisting the help of a politicised Catholic clergy and a pliant state broadcaster to narrow the space for free public debate.
One of the most egregious campaigns of Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s government has been its sweeping “reform” of the judiciary – a transparently political manoeuvre to clip the judges’ wings and consolidate power in the executive. Such open repudiation of core EU values – the rule of law and the separation of powers – is posing a real challenge to the bloc.
On matters of law and policy, at home and abroad, judges should speak through their judgments
Irish judges have shown support for their Polish counterparts. In 2017, the Association of Judges of Ireland issued a statement recording “grave concern” at events in Warsaw. A year later, the High Court halted an extradition case involving a Polish citizen over fears judicial reforms there had undermined the independence of the courts.
But Irish judicial solidarity will go a step further on Saturday, when Supreme Court judge John Mac Menamin will represent his colleagues at a silent protest in Warsaw. He will march in full robes alongside Polish and European counterparts, carrying letters of support from Chief Justice Frank Clarke and the judges’ association.
Understandable though their anger may be, the Irish judges are wrong to take to the streets. Saying that Saturday’s act of protest is not political, as the organisers have claimed, does not make it true.
The gesture is problematic in two ways. A limited effect is that it will make it difficult for the Irish judiciary to be seen as fair and disinterested in future cases that touch on the policies or activities of the Polish government. More importantly, by protesting over the policies of a sitting government, even a foreign one, a line has been crossed. Although the cause in this case is righteous, on matters of law and policy, at home and abroad, judges should speak through their judgments.