Poland’s ruling party has passed a legislation in the parliament that will pave the way for the reinstatement of Supreme Court judges recently forced into retirement by legal reforms.
The amendment introduced on Wednesday morning, and passed on the same day, by the Law and Justice party (PiS) MPs came after a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) last month calling for Poland to put an end to what critics called an attempt to take over the country’s highest court.
The amendment rolls back a provision implemented earlier this year that lowered the retirement age from 70 to 65, prematurely ending the terms of more than two dozen judges.
The proposed amendment stated that the move was an effort to comply with the European court’s ruling despite the ruling party leaders repeatedly defending the reforms during ECJ proceedings.
The changes to will now go to the Senate for debate though no timeline has been established.
“A good plan is not one where someone wins, but one where nobody thinks they’ve lost. I’m convinced that this is a good plan and Poland will benefit from it,” PiS deputy leader Lukasz Schreiber said while presenting the legislation.
While the measure was welcomed by the opposition, it was also widely criticised for not going far enough to restoring judicial independence to Poland.
“If the PiS really wanted to show goodwill, it would adopt a law repealing all changes restricting the independence of the Supreme Court,” tweeted Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz, a member of parliament for the opposition Modern party.
Gdyby PiS rzeczywiście chciał pokazać dobrą wolę to przyjąłby ustawę uchylającą wszystkie zmiany ograniczające niezależność Sądu Najwyższego.
— Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz (@Gasiuk_Pihowicz) November 21, 2018
The country’s nationalist government was criticised for laying waste to the independence of the Constitutional Tribunal, fast-tracking appointments of party-affiliated judges and using state funds to run billboard smear campaigns against judges.
When the new law came into effect this July, it sparked nationwide protests with thousands gathering in front of the Supreme Court in Warsaw.
Last month, the ECJ ordered a temporary suspension of the retirement law, saying it threatened judicial independence.
“In reality, the amendment just confirmed this injunction,” said Maia Mazurkiewicz, a communications manager, European Front, a coalition of pro-European NGOs.
“There are still many more changes to be made to restore the rule of law in Poland.”
Poland’s chief justice Malgorzata Gersdorf requested 23 judges aged 65 years or above, including herself, to return to work a few days after the ECJ’s decision.
Barbora Cernusakova, Poland researcher for Amnesty International, said the amendment presented on Wednesday “addresses just a fraction of the concerns”, adding that not only was the wording vague, it did not wholly consider the ECJ’s concerns.
The draft law also “does not guarantee they [the judges] will be restored in their old positions”, said Cernusakova.
In addition, the amendment also does not eliminate the so-called recruitment measures that the government is accused of using in order to replace existing judges with ones of their choosing.
PiS emerged as the most popular party in the local elections last month despite losing in mayoral races in the cities including Warsaw.