Despite legal action from the European Union, an aid to Polish President Andrzej Duda confirmed Tuesday that 27 of the nation’s Supreme Court Justices will be forced to retire Wednesday.
The removal of the justices is in accordance with new legislation passed by the far-right Law and Justice party (PiS). The controversial legislation reduces the age at which Supreme Court judges must retire from 70 to 65. It also expands the number of justices from 72 to 120, allowing PiS to fill new seats with loyalists.
The E.U. launched legal action against Poland on Monday, saying the reforms undermine judicial independence and breach Poland’s obligations under E.U. law.
Amongst the 27 justices being forced to retire is Chief Justice Malgorzata Gersdorf, who has been critical of the ruling party’s reforms. Gersdorf and other justices have said they will show up to work Wednesday despite Duda’s announcement, setting the stage for a possible confrontation.
Major protests over Duda’s judicial reforms have been scheduled throughout Poland on Tuesday and Wednesday. The country’s three largest opposition parties will hold a joint protest outside the Supreme Court building in Warsaw around 3 p.m. EST, they said in a joint statement on Tuesday.
“I don’t want to say that I am terrified … But without a doubt this is not a direction I would like to go in, nor support, as I think it destroys what has been built over the last 25 years,” Gersdorf told reporters several days before being removed from office.
Waldemar Zurek, a district court judge in the city of Krakow, has been openly critical of the reforms and said he’s faced abuse and harassment from government officials.
“My mother calls me crying and asking that I stop [the criticism],” Zurek told reporters. “She says, ‘I have never been so scared as I am now, and I’ve lived some years in the world.’”
The PiS government insists the changes are needed to tackle corruption and overhaul a judicial system still haunted by the communist era, but critics including the E.U. argue they undermine the division of powers and therefore threaten democracy and the rule of law.
Arkadiusz Mularczyk, a PiS MP, said the E.U.’s actions amount to “ a debate about whether bureaucrats from old member states, sitting in the [European Commision], can rule the whole Union.”
In a statement, the European Commision, the bloc’s powerful executive arm, said the reforms “undermine the principle of judicial independence, including the irremovability of judges.”
“While the Polish Supreme Court law has already been discussed in the context of the rule of law dialogue between the commission and the Polish authorities, it has not been satisfactorily addressed through this process,” European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters.
In December, Brussels triggered unprecedented Article 7 proceedings against Poland over “systemic threats” to the rule of law, which could eventually see Warsaw’s E.U. voting rights suspended.
Poland has a month to respond to the commission’s formal announcement, the first stage of a procedure that could end up in the European Court of Justice, the bloc’s top tribunal.