Polish lawmakers set to back judicial overhaul, defying protests, EU

Sunday, 23 Jul, 2017

Poland's president sees flaws in contentious legislation adopted by the Senate that gives politicians significant influence over the nation's Supreme Court, his spokesman said yesterday.

The reform bill will empower parliament and the justice minister to appoint judges to the Supreme Court.The opposition, critics in Brussels and judges' groups in Poland say the legislation is a new step by the Polish government towards authoritarianism.

Poland's Senate approved the legislation early on July 22.

The ruling Law and Justice party defends the changes as reforms to a justice system that party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski says was never properly purged of former communists after that political system collapsed in 1989. The head of state has 21 days to sign the document, veto it, or, if in doubt, submit it to the constitutional court. Duda has so far followed the ruling party line.

The parliament pushed through the change to the Supreme Court, which gives the government power to select candidates for the court, despite protests by thousands of people and criticisms from the EU.

In response to the move. the European Commission said it would implement an unprecedented Article 7 procedure, which means asking EU governments to formally state that they regard the rule of law as being under threat in Poland.

Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Warsaw and cities across Poland for candle-lit vigils to protest against the draft bill, as the Senate debated it late into the night. The bill on the Supreme Court.

"Poland's president should be concerned about a situation that is, let's say, serious", Tusk said.

However, in this case the EU Commission is objecting to yet another reactionary move against Poland's judiciary by a very reactionary regime in Warsaw.

Polish democracy icon and ex-president Lech Walesa addresses a large crowd of anti-government protesters in Gdansk Poland Saturday
Crowds Gather in Warsaw to Protest Judicial Reforms

But the Czech judges said the bill was an attack on the Polish judiciary's independence.

If the PiS government does not back down, Poland could face fines and even a suspension of its voting rights, although other eurosceptic European Union governments, notably Hungary, are likely to veto strict punishments.

The legislation, approved early Saturday, has drawn condemnation from European Union leaders and has led to major protests across Poland.

European Council chief Donald Tusk has warned they was against EU principles as changes are believed to give the government control over the judiciary by enabling it to pick top judges.

The bill still needs approval from Poland's upper house, the Senate and from Duda, before it takes effect.

Since being elected in 2015, PiS has sought to tighten government control over the courts, brought prosecutors and state media under direct government control.

Party spokeswoman, Beata Mazurek, said Thursday that people in small towns across the country have a sense the justice system is not on their side and the party wants to change that.

Critics at home and overseas say the legislation is part of a drift towards authoritarianism by the government, which espouses nationalist rhetoric coupled with left-leaning economic policy.

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