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UN expert welcomes European Court’s ruling to reinstate top judges in Poland

GENEVA (23 October 2018) – A UN expert today welcomed a decision by the European Union’s supreme court to reinstate top judges who were forced to retire to make way for mostly political appointees of the ruling majority.

"The forceful retirement of judges before the end of their legal terms constitutes a serious blow to the principle of judicial independence, and is a flagrant breach of the principle of irremovability of judges," said Diego García-Sayán, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.

On 19 October, the European Court of Justice issued an injunction reinstating 27 of Poland’s Supreme Court judges over the age of 65 who were ordered to retire under a law enacted in July. Previously, the retirement age was 70. "I trust that the Government will fully implement the Court’s decision," said the mandate holder. 

"I am very worried about the far-reaching adverse effects that some aspects of the judicial reform is having – and will have – on the independence of Polish courts and tribunals," said García-Sayán.

Replacements for judges who were forced to retire early have been appointed on recommendation of the newly constituted National Council of the Judiciary, largely dominated by the political appointees of the current ruling majority.

The Special Rapporteur acknowledged that Poland was entitled to reform its judicial system. However, he stressed that the main effect — if not the main goal — of the measures adopted by the ruling majority is the weakening of the constitutionally protected principle of judicial independence.


Mr. Diego García-Sayán was appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers in December 2016. Mr. García-Sayán was formerly a judge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for two consecutive terms. During his tenure, he was elected Vice-President of the Court (2008-2009) and President of the Court for two consecutive terms (2009-2013). He has long-standing experience working on human rights issues in a variety of settings, including for the United Nations and the Organization of American States. Among others, he was: Representative of the UN Secretary-General for the Peace Agreements at El Salvador and for the subsequent verification of the agreements reporting directly to the Security Council; member and Chairperson of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances during several years; member of the Redesign Panel on the United Nations System of Administration of Justice, appointed by the UN Secretary-General in 2006; Head of the Electoral Mission of the Organisation of American States (OAs) in Guatemala during the general elections (2007). Learn more.

Read the Independent Expert’s statement to the Human Rights Council.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page – Poland

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact: Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org.