Supreme Court President Malgorzata Gersdorf addresses supporters and the media before entering the Supreme Court building in Warsaw, Poland, July 4, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

The European Union’s top court has dealt a blow to the Polish government’s efforts to take over the country’s courts.

The EU Court of Justice ruled yesterday that an April 2018 law that forced scores of Supreme Court judges into retirement is contrary to EU law. The judges were replaced by others loyal to Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party.

The judgment is important as it puts beyond doubt that the rule of law backslide in Poland has reached a point where core values of the EU are being threatened and breached. The judgment followed an October 2018 interim EU Court of Justice decision ordering the Polish government to suspend the application of the law, which authorities complied with.

That court’s ruling also shows that the European Commission made the right decision in December 2017 when it launched a political sanctions process against Poland under Article 7 of the EU treaty, which allows for action when an EU government takes steps that create a serious risk of breach of EU values. The Article 7 process now sits with the EU Council of Member States. The Commission has also launched three enforcement actions against Poland over laws that breach its EU duties.

Attacks on the judiciary in Poland has been the focus of EU concern since the ruling Law and Justice party came to power in 2015 and almost immediately began its campaign to roll back democratic and rule of law safeguards.

The government has taken steps to silence independent media outlets and journalists, engages in abuses of migrants and refugees, and regularly demonizes and obstructs the work of human rights organizations dealing with topics at odds with its conservative, populist policies, including LGBT, refugee, and women’s rights. The government frequently lashes out against its own Ombudsman for doing his job in holding the government to account over its human rights record.

The last time the EU Court of Justice ruled against Poland, the government took action, albeit narrowly. Now it’s up to Poland to repeal this law and ensure affected judges are immediately reinstated or compensated for being sacked unlawfully, and also take steps to act on wider recommendations of EU institutions and its own ombudsman.