Polish state becoming authoritarian, top judge Gersdorf says

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Judge Malgorzata Gersdorf: One of the main critics of the government's court turmoil

The outgoing head of Poland's Supreme Court says the National Law and Justice Party (PiS) is moving the country to an authoritarian state.

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Malgorzata Gersdorf, who retired after a six-year term, was talking to TVN24.

Asked if Poland was an authoritarian state, she said "I still don't wait, but we are heading for a fast".

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She cited the party's determination to hold a presidential election next month only by postal vote.

The controversial election, which is taking place despite the coronavirus blockade, marginalizes the state electoral commission.

Gersdorf defended the independence of the supreme court and rejected the accusations of the ruling party and its ally President Andrzej Duda that Polish judges are a privileged and corrupt "caste" that protects their own interests, not those of the peoples.

"I paid for the defense of judicial independence and the judges, becoming the target of insignificant and brutal attacks. I was not prepared," wrote Gersdorf in a farewell letter to his colleagues.

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With the country under arrest, Gersdorf did not call a general court assembly to name his successor.

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President Duda on Thursday appointed Kamil Zaradkiewicz, a former Ministry of Justice official during the previous PiS government, as his interim successor to organize this process.

Judge Zaradkiewicz was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2018 by President Duda.

"In my opinion, Professor Gersdorf has given up. I think she and the others are tired of having to deal with this constantly for four years," Patryk Wachowiec, legal analyst at the think tank at the Civil Development Forum, told the BBC.

On Wednesday, the European Commission launched the latest in a series of legal challenges against government judicial reforms.

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A large crowd marched against the government's judicial reforms in January

With Gersdorf's departure and the retirement of four other judges, critics of the reforms say the ruling camp will move quickly to politically capture the Supreme Court, just as they say it has already filled the Constitutional Court and the body that appoints judges – the National Judiciary Council – with legalists.

PiS justifies its broad changes by citing opinion polls that show Poles are frustrated by the slowness and complexity of the judicial system, with trials dragging on regularly for months. However, there is no evidence that the procedures are more efficient now after four years of reform.

The government field denies that the reform undermines judicial independence and the rule of law, arguing that the courts are more democratic because they are now better equipped to defend citizens' interests. The European Commission, the OSCE's international security body, the Council of Europe and legal associations in the USA, the UK and across Europe disagree.

The European Commission says the new legislation expands the disciplinary measures that can be taken against judges and that can be used as "a system of political control over the content of court decisions".

Wachowiec is pessimistic about the future of the Supreme Court's independence, in part because of the European Commission's lack of decisive action.

"Always acting too late and trying to engage in debates in the face of blatant violations of the rule of law, the & # 39; new & # 39; Supreme Court will finally share the fate of its counterpart, the Constitutional Court – loyal to the government, hostile to the government public and not impartial, "he said.

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