The representative body for members of the Irish judiciary has condemned “in the strongest terms” personalised attacks against a High Court judge in the Polish media.
The statement comes after two conservative outlets referenced the judge’s sexual orientation while criticising her decision to suspend the extradition of a Polish man due to concerns over recent law changes in the country.
In asking the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for a ruling on the effect of the law changes, High Court Justice Aileen Donnelly voiced concern that the “common value of the rule of law” in the country has been damaged.
The decision has been described as a ‘nuclear bomb’ by judges in Warsaw - and the ECJ ruling is expected to have widespread ramifications for Poland's membership of the EU.
Reporting on the move over the past few days, conservative newspaper Dziennik Narowowy ran a headline labelling Justice Donnelly an "Irish lesbian judge" with the article referencing that she is the first member of the court to openly confirm that she is gay.
Another news website, wpolityce.pl, also mentioned her sexuality in its report.
She has also faced personalised attacks in the Polish parliament, where her decision has been criticised.
In a statement this afternoon, the Association of Judges of Ireland said it “wishes to deprecate in the strongest terms the personalised attacks and invective directed at our member, Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly reportedly emanating from some sections of the Polish media.”
“Any interested person or party is entitled to criticise a judgment or ruling of a court, and even to do so in robust terms,” said the statement.
“However, a judge is a public office holder, and if a party wishes to criticise her for the manner in which she has performed her public duty, the criticism should be confined to that and directed at the court’s decision and not at the judge personally.
“The irrelevant references to Ms Justice Donnelly’s personal and private life are utterly unacceptable and we condemn them unreservedly.
The association noted that it was not “commenting in any way” or “expressing any views whatsoever” concerning the ongoing extradition case or Justice Donnelly’s ruling.
It said it would be “wholly inappropriate for us to do so.”
The legislative changes were made by the conservative PiS Government following its election last October.
Two of the changes in particular have garnered international attention – changes to the regulation of public broadcasters and changes to the constitutional court system.
The measures have led to fears the Government aims to abolish the separation of powers between the legislature and the justice system, while effectively turning the public broadcaster into a Government propaganda outfit.
The European Commission has already initiated sanction procedures against the country amid fears the measures could potentially threaten democracy.
In referring the case to the ECJ, Justice Donnelly warned that the rule of law in Poland had been “systematically damaged” – with the integrity of the constitutional court system “greatly interfered with.”
She suggested that there was no longer any guarantee that Polish law would continue to comply with the country’s constitution.
The case is due back before the High Court next week.