Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced on Wednesday that Poland’s government will continue its judicial reforms, despite yesterday’s negative European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling.

On Tuesday, the ECJ ruled that judicial reforms introduced by the Law and Justice (PiS) government in 2017 violated EU law by introducing a different retirement age for female and male judges and public prosecutors, as well as by lowering the retirement age of judges while enabling the justice minister to extend their active service.

The prime minister responded in an interview with Polish Press Agency (PAP) by saying that the government will closely analyse the ruling and its potential consequences, but at the same time highlighting that “the Polish judicial system still requires very profound reform”.

“We will continue the reforms – in a way that they can be well understood by our partners in the European Union, but above all so that our courts become efficient, because this is what our citizens expect from us”, added Morawiecki.

The prime minister also noted that yesterday’s “verdict in fact applies to the historical state of play – the relevant law was changed over a year ago”.

The court’s ruling concerns reforms reducing the retirement age for women to 60 and for men to 65 from the previous 67. Additionally, the law gave the justice minister the power to extend the active service of judges of ordinary courts beyond the new retirement ages.

The ECJ’s verdict, in response to an action brought by the European Commission in late 2017 against Poland for failing to fulfil its obligations as an EU member state, found that the reforms contravened the principle of gender equality and introduced political influence that endangered judicial independence.

The verdict is the latest instalment in a long-running struggle between the Polish government and the European Commission over the controversial judicial reforms that have been a key part of PiS’s agenda since returning to power in 2015. It follows another negative ECJ ruling from June this year on the lowering of the retirement age of Polish Supreme Court justices.

In 2017, the Commission triggered Article 7 rule-of-law proceedings against Poland, which could result in the country having its EU voting rights suspended (though this outcome is unlikely given the unanimity required among other member states). It was the first time that Article 7 had ever been employed.

PiS has long maintained that its judicial reforms only bring the country into line with systems in place in other countries, and are essential to repair the damage lingering from the legacy of the communist era. Notes from Poland editor-at-large Stanley Bill explained the judicial reforms in this article.

Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro has vowed that the government will press on with plans after its victory in October’s elections. “Unfortunately we still have a lot to do,” he said. “And I am certain that when we complete the reform in a year’s time, there will be an improvement”.

Main picture credit: Flickr/Kancelaria Premiera (under public domain)

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