The European Court of Justice concluded Poland’s eurosceptic government had undermined the independence of its courts by rolling out the sweeping reforms. The ruling Law and Justice party pass a law lowered the age of retirement for judges in ordinary courts, public prosecutors and even the supreme court. Under the reform, women would have to retire at 60 years old and men would have to retire at 65 years of age.
Previously, both sexes were given retirement dates when they reached 67 years old.
The Polish justice minister, from the ruling party, was handed powers to extend the active period for judges in ordinary courts past the new retirement ages.
The European Commission challenged Warsaw, insisting the changes are against EU, and eventually took their case to the ECJ.
The European Court of Justice said that Poland’s decision to differ the age of retirement between male and female judges was “contrary” to EU rules on non-discrimination.
EU judges also said allowing the justice minister the final say over where a judge’s service could be extended beyond retirement brought into question judicial independence.
The Luxembourg-based court ruled: “Poland failed to fulfil its obligations under EU law, first, by establishing a different retirement age for men and women who were judges or public prosecutors in Poland and, second, by lowering the retirement age of judges of the ordinary courts while conferring on the minister of justice the power to extend the period of active service of those judges.”
In a statement, the Commission hailed the ECJ decision as “an important ruling in support of the independence of judiciary in Poland and beyond”.
The Brussels-based executive added: “We stand ready to support the Polish government and to continue discussions on the resolution of all other outstanding issues related to the rule of law in Poland.”
Poland could be levied with huge fines if its government refuses to comply with the ECJ ruling.
If the Commission files another request to enforce the punishment, the daily fines against Warsaw could run into millions of euros.
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“The Commission should have withdrawn its complaint after the amended law came into force,” said the Law and Justice’s ministry of foreign affairs.
Warsaw “does not question the obligation to enforce ECJ judgements, but it remains convinced that the amendments made and challenged by the European Commission did not violate judicial independence”, it adds.