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Home News & Events Latest News 2018 ​Public Statement-Poland: Chief Justice Malgorzata Gersdorf (September 2018)

​Public Statement-Poland: Chief Justice Malgorzata Gersdorf (September 2018)

September 27, 2018

Toronto, ON — The Law Society of Ontario expresses grave concern over the forced retirement of Chief Justice Malgorzata Gersdorf and 26 Supreme Court Justices. When serious issues of apparent injustice to lawyers and the judiciary come to our attention, we speak out.
                                        
Chief Justice Malgorzata Gersdorf was the head of the Supreme Court in Poland.
 
In July 2018, an amendment to the law that defines the mandatory retirement age for judges in Poland reduced the mandatory retirement age of Supreme Court judges from 70 to 65.  The amendment effectively dismissed 27 of 72 members of the judiciary including Chief Justice Gersdorf.
 
Chief Justice Malgorzata Gersdorf describes this change as a “purge” of the Supreme Court conducted under the guise of retirement reform. Observers have characterized it as a move to silence dissenters, such as Chief Justice Gersdorf, and put the judiciary under political control.
 
Chief Justice Gersdorf has been repeatedly attacked in Poland’s pro-government media for expressing her concerns over the future of the rule of law in Poland. Chief Justice Gersdorf was also targeted by fifty Members of Parliament from the governing Law and Justice Party in March 2017, when they requested that the Constitutional Court examine the legality of her judicial appointment.
 
This amendment raises serious concerns regarding the rule of law and judicial independence in Poland. The Law Society has previously expressed concerns about the rule of law and independence of the judiciary in Poland in a public statement dated November 2017.
 
The Law Society of Ontario is deeply troubled by the forced retirement of Chief Justice Gersdorf and the 26 other Supreme Court Justices and urges the Polish government to comply with its obligations under international human rights laws, including the United Nations’ Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary.
 
Article 1 of the Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary states:
 
The independence of the judiciary shall be guaranteed by the State and enshrined in the Constitution or the law of the country. It is the duty of all governmental and other institutions to respect and observe the independence of the judiciary.
 
Article 7 states:
 
It is the duty of each Member State to provide adequate resources to enable the judiciary to properly perform its functions.
 
Furthermore, Article 8 provides:
 
In accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, members of the judiciary are like other citizens entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly; provided, however, that in exercising such rights, judges shall always conduct themselves in such a manner as to preserve the dignity of their office and the impartiality and independence of the judiciary.
 
The Law Society urges the Government of Poland to:
 

  1. ensure that judges shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic, or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards, and ethics;

  2. guarantee the independence of the judiciary;

  3. guarantee that there shall not be any inappropriate or unwarranted interference with the judicial process and with judicial decisions;

  4. ensure that all judges in Poland are adequately safeguarded by the authorities such that they are able to carry out their professional duties and activities free from intimidation, hindrance, harassment, improper interference, the threat of criminalization, or other human rights violations; and

  5. ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments.