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Polish judges urged to ‘fight every inch’ for their independence

Supreme court president says plans to change how judges are appointed could turn courts into ‘plaything’ for politicians.

The president of Poland’s supreme court has urged the country’s judges to “fight for every inch of justice” as the rightwing government pushes for changes that critics say would make judicial independence a “pure fiction”.

“For over a year I have been repeating that the courts are easily turned into a plaything in the hands of politicians,” Małgorzata Gersdorf told her colleagues in an open letter read out at a recent gathering of judges in Warsaw. “What was until now a threat is becoming a reality.”

In its latest battle with Poland’s legal system, the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) says it wants to “democratise” the way Polish judges are appointed, which at the moment is a job for the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), an autonomous body whose judicial members are chosen by their peers.

Under the government’s proposals, however, the terms of all the judicial members of the council would be terminated within 90 days of the draft law’s enactment. Their replacements would be selected by the Polish parliament, with the speaker of the parliament given discretion as to which candidates should be put forward for consideration.

Whereas the council’s judicial members presently enjoy a majority, under the government’s proposals the body would be split into two chambers, one for judicial members and the other for political representatives. Both chambers would have to agree to an appointment or a resolution, giving the political representatives a veto over decisions made by the judicial members.

“The government’s proposals will be an instrument for ensuring the appointment of the ‘right’ kind of judges who will not be too critical of the authorities and their political programme,” said Ewa Łętowska, a professor at Poland’s Institute of Legal Sciences and a former judge who served on the country’s constitutional tribunal and the supreme administrative court.

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