tuesday, 26 may of 2020


Poland’s supreme court appointment sparks political dispute

Poland’s president has appointed a former deputy justice minister as the head of the country’s supreme court, in a move that critics said further undermined judicial independence in the country.

For the past five years, the supreme court has been at the heart of a battle for control of Poland’s judiciary, with outgoing head Malgorzata Gersdorf one of the most outspoken opponents of changes made by the ruling Law and Justice party. The changes have given politicians sweeping powers over the court system and sparked a bitter feud between Warsaw and Brussels.

Ms Gersdorf retired at the end of April and, on Monday, Poland’s president Andrzej Duda chose as her successor Malgorzata Manowska, a 55-year-old judge in the supreme court’s civil chamber and, until Monday, head of the state school for judges and prosecutors.

Ms Manowska is well regarded for her legal expertise and is the author of textbooks widely used by law students. Sebastian Kaleta, deputy justice minister, said that she would make a "great" head of the court.

But Law and Justice’s opponents were quick to decry her appointment, claiming that the process of selecting candidates had not followed the law, and pointing out that she worked as deputy justice minister in a previous Law and Justice government in 2007. Her then boss was the current justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, the author of Law and Justice’s contested judicial overhaul.

"Law and Justice is trying to install a former politician in the function of first president of the Supreme Court. Such things don’t fit into any conception of a democratic state of law. This is a standard for a dictatorship," Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz, from the largest opposition party, Civic Platform, wrote on Twitter.

During a hearing of candidates for the post on Saturday, Ms Manowska said she had never made a secret of her political links. But she added that she had not spoken out about politics in the past dozen years and promised to be a "guardian of Independence". "No politician has ever influenced me in the sphere of jurisprudence, nor even tried," she said.

But critics said that the replacement of Ms Gersdorf with a former subordinate of Mr Ziobro marked a symbolic moment in the battle over Poland’s judiciary, during which Law and Justice has neutered the constitutional tribunal and given politicians power over the body that appoints judges.

"This is the end of the era in which the head of the supreme court was the face of the fight to preserve judicial independence in Poland," said Anna Wojcik, a researcher at the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Marcin Matczak, a lawyer and professor of law at the University of Warsaw, said that while Ms Manowska was regarded as a good lawyer, this on its own was "insuficiente" to qualify her for the position of head of the supreme court. "We are talking about other things as well, especially about independence from politicians — both real and perceived," he said.

"There is case law from the European Court of Human Rights clearly stating that a judge and people who supervise the judicial branch must be perceived as independent. And it's very difficult to say so about her when she used to be a deputy minister working with Ziobro.

(Published by Financial Timess, May 26, 2020)

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