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Top Polish government critic, Supreme Court chief retires

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imageWorld10 hours ago (Apr 29, 2020 09:11PM ET)

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(C) Reuters. Supreme Court President Malgorzata Gersdorf attends the court session in Warsaw

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By Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Joanna Plucinska

WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s Supreme Court chief Malgorzata Gersdorf ends a six-year term on Thursday, opening way for the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government to pick a supporter of its contested judiciary overhaul to replace her.

Since PiS came to power in 2015, the 67-year-old lawyer had emerged as a figurehead for opponents of its reform efforts, which the European Union has said subvert democratic checks and balances.

Earlier this month, Gersdorf had sought to comply with a European Court of Justice ruling that directed Poland to suspend a Supreme Court panel created to discipline judges.

A spokesman for the panel, which Brussels says was set up by PiS in breach of EU law, said the ruling by the EU’s top court did not undermine the functioning of the panel. Gersdorf insisted its activities should be suspended until a final ECJ ruling is issued.

“I have never kept secret my views on actions, which sought to undermine the constitutional infrastructure of the judiciary,” Gersdorf said in a statement on Tuesday issued ahead of her retirement.

“Unfortunately, I have not been able to stop this process. I have not succeeded in preventing the destruction of the rule of law.”

PiS says it inherited a court system run by a self-serving elite and seeped in communist-era power structures that prevented it from functioning efficiently and fairly. Critics at home and abroad say, however, its reforms amount to an authoritarian power grab.

Gersdorf has previously defied efforts by the PiS government to force her into early retirement. In 2018, she continued to work even after the government passed legislation lowering judges’ retirement age. The EU had said the retirement rules were unacceptable.

On Wednesday, the EU’s executive started a new legal case against the nationalist Polish government for muzzling judges in the bloc’s largest ex-communist country.

In setting out her departure, Gersdorf has refused to convene an assembly of Supreme Court judges that would nominate candidates for her replacement, saying the novel coronavirus pandemic made it too dangerous to do so.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, has said he would pick an acting Supreme Court chief who could then call the assembly to allow for a nomination.

Gersdorf, who is the most senior of Supreme Court presidents, has argued she should be replaced by the longest-serving of her five peers until an assembly can meet safely. But Duda rejected that.

“A Supreme Court judge can become acting president only if designated by the president, as stated by legislation,” Duda said in a Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) discussion on Wednesday, according to the state PAP news agency.

Around a third of Supreme Court judges were nominated under PiS rule, meaning the assembly is likely to propose at least one candidate for chief who would be acceptable to Duda.

Top Polish government critic, Supreme Court chief retires

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