Poles protest against new legislation on the Supreme Court that will force the retirement of more than a third of the judges to the top court, in Warsaw, Poland, Monday, July 2, 2018. The European Union opened a rule-of-law procedure Monday against Poland over what it sees as flaws in Poland's Supreme Court law, intensifying a standoff that is threatening Poland's EU voting rights and funding. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Head of Poland's top court vows to resist removal

July 03, 2018 - 10:37 am

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The head of Poland's Supreme Court vowed Tuesday to resist the government's steps to remove her from her post under new retirement regulations that she has called a "purge."

Malgorzata Gersdorf insisted that under the Constitution of Poland her term as the court's first president runs until 2020. Yet she said she expects President Andrzej Duda to tell her to step down when they meet later in the day.

A law introduced by Poland's right-wing ruling Law and Justice party is forcing Gersdorf and many other Supreme Court judges who are age 65 and above to retire as of Wednesday. The law lowered the retirement age from 70.

The government insists it is improving Poland's justice system, saying it was inefficient and controlled by a "caste" of judges, many of whom were active in the communist era. The law has been condemned by the European Union.

The provision affects 27 of the court's 73 judges. Some of them have asked Duda for extensions of their service. Gersdorf did not, arguing that her tenure continues since the Supreme Court's first president is appointed for six years, but said she does not expect Duda to share her view.

"My term as the Supreme Court head is being brutally cut, even though it is written into the Constitution," Gersdorf said in a lecture to law students.

One of the jobs of the Supreme Court is to verify election results, and critics say putting it under political control marks a major step back for democracy in Poland.

The law lowering the retirement age is part of a broader judicial overhaul promoted by the ruling party. The European Union has called the changes anti-democratic and opened sanctioning procedures that could potentially strip Poland of its EU voting rights.

"The damage (from the new law) is very serious," Gersdorf said. "To a large extent, the independence of Poland's constitutional court has been destroyed."

"We can speak of a crisis of the rule of law in Poland, of a lack of respect for the constitution," she said.

Dozens of people protested in front of the presidential palace Tuesday before Gersdorf's meeting with Duda. Protesters held up a large sign, clearly addressed to the president, which read: "He who breaks the highest law is a traitor to the nation."

Democracy champion and Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa has said he will come to Warsaw from his hometown of Gdansk on Wednesday to defend the Supreme Court.

"I want to do this in a peaceful way but if anyone, including the police, stands in my way, I will fight and defend myself," the 74-year-old Walesa wrote recently on his Facebook account, saying he has a legal firearm that he can use in self-defense.

That prompted the Interior Minister Joachim Brudzinski to say that that anyone who threatens to use a weapon "is either emotionally unfriendly or a dangerous psychopath."

Walesa tweeted back to say "I have not threatened anyone and I am not going to shoot anyone."

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