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The Judge who would not quit

The Judge who would not quit

Poland's senior-most judge has defied controversial government reforms lowering the retirement age, vowing to remain at her post until 2020 unless the constitution is changed or she dies. Malgorzata Gersdorf, the 65-year-old head of Poland's Supreme Court, maintains that the government's judicial reforms were "dangerous" to democracy in a country already in "friction" with the rest of Europe. Gersdorf's comments came as the European Commission decided to sue Warsaw for violating the independence of its judiciary. It is the latest step in the Commission's complex disciplinary action against Poland for breaching European Union core principles, exposing the deep unease in parts of Europe with the policies pursued by Warsaw's right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS). As part of government "reforms", the retirement age of Supreme Court judges was lowered from 70 to 65, a move affecting 27 of the 72 sitting judges. Not that Gersdorf is having any of it. "I will not resign," she said in her Warsaw office, where she has returned every day since the new laws came into effect in April. "I will remain the First President of the Supreme Court until 30th April 2020", she said.

Under the reforms, judges can also ask the Polish president to prolong their mandate, something Gersdorf has previously dismissed as equal to "subordination." Defying a government deadline to ask for a prolonged mandate, she turned up to work flanked by hundreds of supporters in July. Gersdorf has since become something of a celebrity of the resistance movement but admits Polish society is still "split" on the reforms. Not surprisingly, among those backing the Polish government, is US President Donald Trump. A day after the Commission referred Warsaw to its highest court, the European Court of Justice, over its judicial reforms, Trump praised Poland in a speech at the United Nations General Assembly. "In Poland, a great people are standing up for their independence, their security, and their sovereignty," he said. Trump made his remarks a week after saying that the US was considering placing a permanent military base in Poland and the country's president proposed naming it "Fort Trump" in his honour. Poland's ally and neighbour Hungary is also facing disciplinary action from the EU for its alleged crackdown on democratic institutions. Of greater concern to Gersdorf was the blurring of lines between the government and the judicial system in Poland. After a lifetime in law, including as a Professor at the University of Warsaw, Gersdorf became the First President of the Supreme Court in 2014. Four years later, she is fighting to stay in the job she describes as the "crowning" moment in her career. How successful she will be, remains to be seen.

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