UK judges snub march protesting Polish rule of law crisis — but offer statement of support

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By CJ McKinney on

Most other EU countries will be represented by their judges

British judges will not attend a protest organised by the Polish judges’ association to highlight the deepening rule of law crisis in that country.

Judges representing most EU countries are converging on Warsaw tomorrow for a silent march in full judicial regalia, but their UK counterparts are apparently washing their hair that day.

The Irish Supreme Court is sending a justice to march in full robes as a show of solidarity, while there will also be judges from Austria, Germany, Portugal, Denmark, France, Croatia, Greece, Spain, Hungary, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania, Estonia, Slovenia and Turkey in attendance.

The Polish judges’ association, Iustitia, told Legal Cheek that it had sent an invitation to the UK Supreme Court, but didn’t get a response. A spokesperson for the Supreme Court confirmed that Lady Hale had received an invitation but was unable to attend.

The Judicial Office of England and Wales, which was not approached directly, said in a statement that “the independence of the judiciary is central to the rule of law”.

Iustitia says that “for the last couple of years in Poland the government and the legislature have systematically attempted to limit the independence of courts and the independence of judges”. The government claims that its reforms are to tackle corruption and increase efficiency, but critics say it’s more about packing the courts with compliant jurists.

In June 2019, the EU court found that a law lowering the retirement age of Polish Supreme Court judges was in breach of EU rules. In November, it ruled against a separate attempt to selectively force out judges in the lower courts.

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The European Commission wrote to the Polish government just before Christmas to warn against “further deterioration of the situation of the rule of law in Poland”. The ruling Law and Justice party is nevertheless pressing ahead with a law that would punish judges for “political activity” and questioning the legitimacy of pro-government appointees to the bench.

The legislation is widely seen as an attempt to muzzle the judiciary, which has taken the lead in highlighting the government’s changes to the legal system.

Tomorrow’s protest march will see European lawyers and judges “walk together in silence in Warsaw… dressed in gowns/robes that are a symbol of our service to the law and societies of Europe”.

A spokesperson for the Judicial Office said: “There will not be a judge from England and Wales attending the march this coming Saturday. The England and Wales judiciary’s position is nonetheless clear and well known on the international stage: it is that the independence of the judiciary is central to the rule of law, underpinning the stability of society and effective functioning of democracy and the economy.”

They continued:

“Thus, the England and Wales judiciary actively supports and promotes judicial independence in both bilateral and multilateral discussions, including in the European Network for the Councils of the Judiciary (ENCJ) and the European Association of Judges (EAJ), as well as in the wider International Association of Judges (IAJ). These are organisations which have each been monitoring the situation in Poland over the past few years and made clear their opposition to any infringement of the judicial independence principle in that country.”

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