Polish Supreme Court chief says government staging 'coup'

Warsaw (AFP) –


The chief justice of Poland's Supreme Court on Friday accused the right-wing government of staging a "coup" against it through a new law, part of a string of highly controversial reforms.

The EU launched unprecedented disciplinary proceedings against Poland on Wednesday over its judicial reforms which Brussels says threaten the rule of law.

One of the new laws passed by Poland's rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) and endorsed by President Andrzej Duda empowers the president to decide which judges may stay on in the Supreme Court after the age of 65.

"The coup d?etat against the structure of one of the most important State institutions is taking place: not with armed force or paramilitary troops but 'only' by misusing legal institutions,"Malgorzata Gersdorf said in an open letter published Friday.

The new law on the Supreme Court reduces the retirement age of its members to 65 from 70 and is aimed at removing judges who served in communist courts before the regime collapsed in 1989.

The president can, however, allow individual judges to continue working until 70 years of age.

Critics insist the measure is illegal as it requires the departure of the court's existing chief justice Gersdorf, who is only halfway through her constitutionally mandated six-year term.

Critics also allege that the PiS administration simply wants to purge a judiciary it believes is still stacked in favour of supporters of former liberal prime minister Donald Tusk, a political arch-rival who is now president of the European Council.

"I warn the government: do not break the social contract written in the form of the Constitution. You are walking carelessly along the abyss in which the whole nation may finally fall down," Gersdorf told Poland's rightwing leaders Friday.

The EU's executive arm triggered article seven of the bloc's treaty over what it sees as "systemic threats" to the independence of the Polish judiciary from the right-wing government.

The censure process against Poland can eventually lead to the "nuclear option" of the suspending its voting rights within the bloc.

Poland can, however, count on Hungary's veto of a final resolution on the suspension of its voting rights, a move that requires unanimity.

The EU has given Warsaw three months to remedy the situation, saying Brussels could withdraw the measures if it did.

However Polish authorities are showing no sign of backing down.