Judges from around Europe are expected to congregate in Warsaw on Saturday to participate in a silent march to support their Polish counterparts in protesting against the government’s court reforms, which include strict new disciplinary measures against judges.
Among then will be Irish Supreme Court judge John MacMenamin, wearing his full robes and carrying letters of support from Irish Chief Justice Frank Clarke and the Association of Justices in Ireland, reports the Irish Times.
The Irish delegation is expected to be joined at the so-called “March of a Thousand Robes” by judges, all wearing their full judicial garb, from around 17 other European countries, including France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Hungary, Greece and Turkey.
European judges support Polish independent judges, joining the silent march on 11.01.2020 pic.twitter.com/bXTZSp0DaA
— IUSTITIA Polish Judges Association (@JudgesSsp) January 8, 2020
Co-organiser Monika Frąckowiak, speaking to the Irish Times, admits that the march is unlikely to make the government “step back, because I have seen what they have been doing for five years or so”. But she stressed that the support from international delegations “gives us strength, so from that point of view it’s very important”.
In a video recording inviting people to attend the march, Frąckowiak, a district judge in Poznań who has previously claimed to be the target of “‘absurd disciplinary procedures”, said: “We need to express our protest against the political grab of the judiciary. We shall never agree for judges to be the puppets of any politicians.”
The IUSTITIA Polish Judges Association, one of the organisers of the protest, has shared messages of support from around Europe.
Saturday next I will join my Dutch colleague-judges, together with Polish judges in Warsaw, to protest against political attacks on judicial independence in Europe. I regret this is necessary in the EU. But I am proud that we can help. #TeamRuleOfLaw @TimmermansEU @RechtspraakNL pic.twitter.com/FkipYcKb7g
— Marc de Werd (@EuropeanCourts) January 7, 2020
Murat Arslan, a leading Turkish judicial figure and winner of the 2017 Václav Havel Human Rights Prize, also sent a letter of solidarity from jail in Turkey, reports Polish website oko.press.
“Guardians of the rule of law must be supported by any means necessary. I would march with you if I could…I strongly urge anyone who upholds the same principles as me to go there and be part of this struggle for humanity and justice,” Arslan wrote.
Arslan’s imprisonment has been called “a gross attack on judicial independence” the UN Special Rapporteur for the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego Garcia-Sayán. And Garcia-Sayán has expressed his support for this Saturday’s protest in Warsaw.
He recently warned, in an article co-authored with José Igreja Matos, the president of the European Association of Judges, that: “Time is fast running out for judicial independence in Poland. This is a crucial battle for the future of Europe.”
Next Saturday will be a historic day for #Poland. Legal professionals will stage a march to defend the judiciary against unfair attacks to its independence. Geography prevents me to join you, but receive my assurances to convey our concerns at the international level. https://t.co/tor3KWTzDb
— Diego García-Sayán (@UNIndepJudges) January 5, 2020
The Romanian Judges Forum Association has also announced that judges and prosecutors would be staging a demonstration on Friday as a result of their “deepest concern” regarding the actions of the Polish authorities. In a statement, the association announced that it “supported unconditionally the efforts of Polish judges and their associations, concerning the fight for the independence of the judiciary”.
Meanwhile, the Venice Commission, an expert advisory body of the Council of Europe, has arrived in Warsaw to begin preparing an “urgent opinion” on the latest proposed judicial reforms, which would introduce strict disciplinary measures against judges that refuse to accept the validity of judicial reforms, at the request of the opposition Senate speaker.
However, it emerged today that Elżbieta Witek, the speaker of the Sejm from the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, would not make herself available to meet with the Venice Commission’s delegation. A statement from the Sejm Information Centre said she would be unable for a meeting because of an “awkward” situation caused by busy parliamentary proceedings, prior commitments and the lateness of the Venice Commission’s request.
Representatives from the Commission will meet Grodzki and hope to meet Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, who said on Wednesday that “in the light of the Constitution the speaker of the Senate did not have the right to request the Venice Commission to give a report on the amendments to judicial laws. Poland is represented externally by the president and the government via the foreign affairs minister.”
Ben Koschalka is a translator and the assistant editor at Notes from Poland. Originally from Britain, he has lived in Kraków since 2005.