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

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.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.