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EU launches legal action against Poland over new law

01 August 2017, 11:08 CET
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EU launches legal action against Poland over new law

Frans Timmermans - Photo EC

(BRUSSELS) - The European Union launched legal action against Poland Saturday following the publication in the Polish Official Journal of a new law it has warned threatens the independence of the judiciary.

The Polish authorities have one month to reply to the Letter of Formal Notice.

The Commission's key legal concern identified in the law on the organisation of ordinary courts relates to the discrimination on the basis of gender due to the introduction of a different retirement age for female judges (60 years) and male judges (65 years).

This, says the EU executive, is contrary to Article 157 Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and Directive 2006/54 on gender equality in employment.

In the Letter of Formal Notice, the Commission also raises concerns that by giving the Minister of Justice the discretionary power to prolong the mandate of judges who have reached retirement age, as well as to dismiss and appoint Court Presidents, the independence of Polish courts will be undermined (see Article 19(1) of the Treaty on European Union in combination with Article 47 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights).

The new rules allow the Minister of Justice to exert influence on individual ordinary judges though, in particular, the vague criteria for the prolongation of their mandates thereby undermining the principle of irremovability of judges.

While decreasing the retirement age, the law allows judges to have their mandate extended by the Minister of Justice for up to ten years for female judges and five years for male judges

Also, there is no time-frame for the Minister of Justice to make a decision on the extension of the mandate, allowing him to retain influence over the judges concerned for the remaining time of their judicial mandate.

In addition, Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans has sent a letter to the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs reiterating the invitation to him and the Polish Minister of Justice for a meeting in Brussels at their earliest convenience in order to relaunch the dialogue. As he said in the context of the Rule of Law dialogue: "The Commission's hand is still extended to the Polish authorities, in the hope of a constructive dialogue."

The Commission's Letter of Formal Notice requests the Polish Government to reply within one month. After examining Poland's reply, or if no observations have been submitted within the prescribed time-limit, the Commission may issue a Reasoned Opinion, the second stage of the infringement procedure.

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