Protests in Poland against government judicial overhaul

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Renowned for her iron will, the blond, bespectacled 65-year-old has refused to comply with a new law that reduces the retirement age for Supreme Court judges from 70 to 65, arguing that the six-year term she is guaranteed under the constitution ends in 2020.

Protests started this week after the right-wing ruling party mandated a new lower retirement age for Poland's Supreme Court justices. "It's not just crucial for my colleagues and me from the Supreme Court.It's vital for citizens that judges are independent".

According to Amnesty International, judges in Poland are "experiencing political pressure" in connection with the PiS judicial reforms that critics insist pose a threat to the separation of powers that is key to democracy. Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro has used another law to change nearly 20% ordinary court presidents or their deputies.

"My term as the Supreme Court head is being brutally cut, even though it is written into the constitution", Gersdorf said in a lecture to law students.

"What if I have a court case against someone from PiS and they will be able to influence judges".

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Government spokeswoman Joanna Kopcinska said Monday that the government of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is fulfilling its promise to voters to clean up a broken justice system — changes she said previous governments should have made but didn't.

Surrounded by hundreds of cheering supporters, Poland's top Supreme Court justice took a defiant stand on the courthouse steps here on Wednesday morning and vowed to keep fighting to protect the Constitution and the independence of the nation's courts.

The new law passed by parliament requires that judges retire when they turn 65 unless they appeal to the country's President, Andrzej Duda, who has sole discretion over whether they can remain.

This latest showdown between the judges, the president and his party is happening on the heels of an announcement Monday by the European Commission - the executive arm of the EU - that it has taken legal action against Poland over the new judicial clampdown laws, which it said "undermine the principle of judicial independence, including the irremovability of judges".

The government insists it is improving Poland's justice system, saying it was inefficient and controlled by a "caste" of judges.

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Protests against PiS' judicial reforms under the slogan "In Defence of the Supreme Court" are expected in cities across Poland on Tuesday evening, according to organizers Komitet Obrony Demokracji (KOD).

Thousands of people gathered in front of the Supreme Court building in Warsaw, where they held candles, sang the national anthem and shouted "Free courts!" and "Down with dictatorship!"

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the ruling party leader, said in an interview published Wednesday by the Gazeta Polska daily that the judges' "action" will result in their "shameful disaster".

"If there is a systemic threat to the rule of law, we can not simply turn a blind eye".

Under Article 7, the most serious punishment that could be inflicted would be the removal of Poland's voting rights in European Union institutions.

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The European Union has called the changes anti-democratic and opened sanctioning procedures that could potentially strip Poland of its EU voting rights.

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