Polish Supreme Court Judges Return to Work after EU Court Temporarily Halts Early Retirement Reforms

Polish Supreme Court Judges Return to Work after EU Court Temporarily Halts Early Retirement Reforms

On Monday, several Supreme Court Justices in Poland returned to court after Poland’s Supreme Court chief justice asked 23 of the court’s judges to return to work, following the European Union’s top court temporarily ordered Poland to “immediately suspend” the application of the provisions of national legislation relating to the lowering of the retirement age for Supreme Court judges on Friday.

In July, 27 of the 72 judges of the court were forced to retire after the new "Law on the Supreme Court," took effect on April 3rd, that lowered the retirement age for justices to 65 from 70, insisting that it wanted to remove judges who were active during the country's communist era to make the court fairer. The reform was part of a judicial overhaul by Poland’s conservative ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS) which was the culmination of a series of sweeping legal changes pushed through by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, giving politicians greater powers over the judiciary. Poland is also expanding its Supreme Court from 93 justices to 120.

In September, the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, took Poland’s government to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) challenging the new retirement law, regarding the decision as a betrayal of democratic values. On Friday, the ECJ ordered a temporary suspension of the retirement law, saying it threatened judicial independence. Saying that its ruling was an interim measure in response to the commission’s argument for urgent action in the face of accelerated retirements, the ECJ issued a temporary injunction suspending the law and ordering the reinstatement of the forced-out judges.

Hence, while ordering to suspend retirements “is to apply with retroactive effect”, it also froze Warsaw’s appointment of any new judges to replace them. In its announcement, the ECJ said that, combined, the two moves of early retirement of Judges and expansion of the Supreme Court amount to “a profound and immediate change in the composition of the Supreme Court,” and warned of possible “serious and irreparable damage” if the retirement-age law was implemented without a full legal review by the court. While the EU court's order was a blow to the policies of Poland's conservative government, Polish judges, were jubilant at the European intervention, which had been regarded as the last chance to keep the country’s judiciary independent.

However, the Luxembourg-based ECJ yet to issue a final ruling on whether Poland’s change to the retirement age violates European law.