WARSAW (Reuters) - A Polish judge suspended for questioning the ruling party's judicial reforms may return to work, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday, in a case that brought thousands of protesters onto the streets in a show of solidarity.
Since taking power in 2015 the Law and Justice (PiS) party has been in conflict with the European Union over reforms which critics say undermine judicial independence. The suspension of Judge Pawel Juszczyszyn brought the issue back to the fore.
Juszczyszyn, a judge in Olsztyn, eastern Poland, was abruptly suspended when he questioned the appointment of a judge by a body called KRS under rules introduced by PiS. The Supreme Court has said KRS is not independent.
"According to the Supreme Court there are no grounds to keep Judge Juszczyszyn suspended," Judge Adam Roch of the Supreme Court's disciplinary chamber told a session.
In early December thousands of protesters poured onto the streets in towns and cities around Poland in support of Juszczyszyn. Nobel prize-winning author Olga Tokarczuk was among those urging Poles to protest.
The case illustrates a broader issue the Polish justice system faces after the PiS reforms - the threat of chaos, as judges themselves start to question the legality of colleagues appointed by the KRS.
The government has justified its far-reaching reforms - including how judges are appointed - by saying they are necessary to improve the efficiency of the courts and to root out the vestiges of the 1945-89 communist era.
Critics say the PiS reforms are aimed at tightening the government's grip over the justice system and that court cases last now 1-2 months longer than in 2015, when PiS took power.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Gareth Jones)