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Critics of the Polish government’s changes to the judiciary, with a banner saying “Polexit” and “Back to Soviet Times,” protest Wednesday in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, Poland, against the appointment of new judges to Poland’s Supreme Court by President Andrzej Duda. (AP photo: Czarek Sokolowski)
Critics of the Polish government’s changes to the judiciary, with a banner saying “Polexit” and “Back to Soviet Times,” protest Wednesday in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, Poland, against the appointment of new judges to Poland’s Supreme Court by President Andrzej Duda. (AP photo: Czarek Sokolowski)

Polish leader appoints top court judges, against ruling

WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s president swore in 27 new Supreme Court judges Wednesday, stepping up the conflict over control of the judiciary and ignoring another top court that said the appointments should be suspended pending an opinion by European Union judges.

Andrzej Duda appointed judges to the civil and penal chambers of the court as well as to its new chamber of extraordinary control, according to his top aide, Pawel Mucha. Reporters were not allowed to witness the ceremony.

“We are implementing another stage of the reform of the justice system that is so important to us,” Mucha said, adding: “We are acting in the public interest.”

The new judges are part of the sweeping changes that the ruling conservative Law and Justice party has been applying to the justice system since winning power in 2015. It says that judges active during the communist era, before 1989, must be replaced. Many of the court’s judges have been forced to retire early under a new law that put their retirement age at 65, from the previous 70.

But critics say the changes violate the constitution and are putting Poland’s courts under the party’s political control. They also say Duda is acting against the supreme charter and warn he may be brought to account before a special tribunal.

The former head of the Constitutional Tribunal, designed to try actions by politicians, Andrzej Zoll, said Duda must be “brought to account in the future,” saying his actions are against the rule of law and could lead to anarchy.

The judicial changes have put Poland at odds with EU leaders, who say they violate the rule of law, and the EU has triggered sanctioning procedures.

Courts in some other EU countries have suspended extraditions to Poland amid questions about judicial independence and fairness of trials there.

Poland’s Supreme Court is seeking the opinion of the EU’s Court of Justice and, backed by a decision by the Supreme Administrative Court, has suspended the nomination of new judges.  Also, the European Commission has asked the EU court’s view on the broad changes to Poland’s judiciary and on the suspension of new nominations. Its ruling will be binding for all 28 EU member states.

Mucha insisted that the controversy does not affect the president’s powers to appoint judges and that the court’s workload required the swift appointment of new members.

But the court’s spokesman, Michal Laskowski, said that Duda’s actions were intended to pre-empt the EU court’s ruling.

A group of opponents protested in front of the Presidential Palace, where the ceremony was held.

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