Poland names former government official as head of Supreme Court

The move marks victory for the government which has been trying for years to take control of the court

Malgorzata Manowska

Polish President Andrzej Duda named Malgorzata Manowska as the new head of the country's Supreme Court on Monday, marking apparent victory in years of government efforts to take control of the court. The new chief justice is considered to be a close collaborator of Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro and served as a senior Justice Ministry official during Ziobro's first stint in government.

Andrzej Zoll, the former head of the country's Constitutional Tribunal, criticised the decision, saying Duda had not taken "the good of the state into consideration," but rather the interest of the governing party.

"Apart from the Commissioner for Human Rights, I do not see a single public office today that is independent of the governing party," Zoll told the TVN24 broadcaster.

The Supreme Court will be chaired by a person "who is known for her close ties with politicians," said Bartlomiej Przymusinski of Iustitia, Poland's largest judges' association.

According to Przymusinski, proper procedure was not observed during the selection process by the acting Supreme Court head, putting the validity of the appointment of the new chief justice into question. This concern has also been voiced by the majority of Supreme Court judges, legal experts and opposition politicians. Critics of Manowska's appointment say she was supported by just 25 out of 95 Supreme Court judges who voted, while one of her rivals secured the support of twice as many judges.

Furthermore, the new head, Malgorzata Manowska, 55, is also head of the state school for judges and prosecutors. She is under disciplinary investigation for keeping the school job after being appointed to the Supreme Court in 2018. The school itself is also under criminal investigation after personal data of its employees, including judges and prosecutors, was leaked.

The president's decision was, however, welcomed by the governing majority.

"Thank you to everyone who in recent years supported us in our effort to reform the justice system and the Supreme Court," said EU lawmaker Patryk Jaki, whose United Poland (Solidarna Polska) party is part of PiS' parliamentary group.

The PiS party started the implementation of broad judicial reforms when it came to power in 2015, arguing that the inefficient system needed a comprehensive overhaul.

However, critics argue the reforms have been an attempt to seize control over the judiciary. The country's Constitutional Tribunal as well as the National Council of the Judiciary, which is meant to safeguard judicial independence, are already under strong political influence, government critics say.

Manowska succeeds Malgorzata Gersdorf, a staunch opponent of the government's justice reforms, whose term of office ended on 30 April. In 2018, PiS attempted to force Gersdorf into retirement, but had to back down in view her refusal to comply as well as a subsequent decision of the European Court of Justice.

Meanwhile, Duda also appointed Judge Michal Laskowski, who served as the top court's spokesman under Gersdorf, to head the court's Criminal Chamber.

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