Major protests have descended on the streets and parliamentary buildings amid concerns surrounding the Polish government’s interference with the Supreme Court of Poland. Such interference has involved the ‘purging’ of members of the Supreme Court whereby Poland’s current ruling party, the Law and Justice Party (PiS), has introduced a mandatory retirement age of 65 for justices serving the Supreme Court. The commencement of the purge will potentially see the removal of 27 of the 72 members within the Supreme Court, including the head of the judicial system, Małgorzata Gersdorf, unless appeals to the country’s president, Andrzej Duda, are made for exemption.
As a response to the government’s involvement with judicial matters, protestors and pro-democracy activists have organized large demonstrations across Poland to make their dissatisfaction known. The New York Times has reported that hours before the purge was effective at midnight, protesters descended on the streets across 60 cities in the country with banners while chanting ‘Solidarnosc,’ a word of defiance that resonates with the Solidarity movement that ended communist-rule in 1989. Kamila Wrzesinska, a protester told the New York Times that “we are here because of the destruction of the judiciary in Poland.” Furthermore, as a response to the purge, members of the E.U. have criticised the government’s actions whereby an ‘infringement procedure’ initiated by the European Commission will direct the matter to the European Court of Justice. The Commission has labeled the government’s involvement with the judiciary system as measures that “undermine the principle of judicial independence,” whereby this involvement has been considered as failing to satisfy the obligations under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
The protests have been successful in gaining momentum against the government’s actions, yet there has been a lack of any foreseeable results since there is a limitation of power that the E.U. can exert. What needs to be made known is that PiS is altering a system where the courts will work in favour of politicians, who will have the capacity to alter the judicial proceedings. The main consequence of this entanglement between the government and the court is that the integrity of the constitution and judicial independence will be undermined by political power.
The cause behind the purge is tied to the government’s concerns of corruption and inefficiency within the legal system and ridding sentiments of communism within the court. Incumbent Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, stated that changes to the judicial system were part of an effort “to throw off the post-communist yoke,” highlighting the government’s concerns over the influence of former communist elites. As a country that was once under Soviet influence, Poland’s transition from a communist to a Western democratic model demonstrated the potential for former Soviet states to overturn complete government control over society. However, with neighbouring countries such as Hungary currently reverting to authoritarian means to exert influence over sectors within the country, this has generated concerns for the E.U. as nationalism and populism continue to rise.
The interrelation between political power and judicial independence is one that has the capability to cause future problems towards the democratic state of Poland. Such problems involve political power meddling with judicial independence, whereby political control over the courts may jeopardize the integrity of free elections. If Poland is to be a truly democratic state, it is necessary for the government to extricate themselves from the legal system. To achieve a swift and peaceful outcome requires a separation of power that involves the government understanding that political power should be limited when the constitution and fundamental rights of citizens are at stake.