Polish Senate Passes Controversial Bill on Judicial Reform

by Lawrence Cooper July 23, 2017, 0:13
Polish Senate Passes Controversial Bill on Judicial Reform

In his double function also as chairman of the Network of the Presidents of the Supreme Judicial Courts of the European Union, Pikamäe has met with the European Commission's first vice president, Frans Timmermans, to discuss the situation in Poland.

The bill, proposed by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, needs to be signed by President Andrzej Duda, an ally of PiS.

Critics say the Supreme Court legislation and two earlier bills destroy judicial independence and threaten democracy.

Senior Czech judges denounced a judicial overhaul in Poland as an attack on the rule of law on Friday, saying they could no longer stay silent over the changes in their neighbor.

Under the current system, candidates for the Supreme Court are selected by an independent body consisting mainly of judges but also including a few politicians.

European Union leaders say the bill will kill judicial independence and threaten the rule of law in the EU's largest member in central and Eastern Europe.

"I wanted to be here on this historic day when our freedoms for which we fought for more than 25 years are being taken away", said Piotr, 48, who came to the protests in Warsaw with his five-year-old son.

The United States, Poland's most important ally in North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, issued a statement urging Poland to ensure any changes respect the constitution.

WARSAW-Poland is giving the government sweeping powers over its judiciary, a move that is rattling European Union leaders and US diplomats but hasn't shifted voters much at home. "We will not be intimidated by Polish and foreign defenders of the interests of the elite", Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said in an address on state television.

In an unexpected break with his former party, Duda said he would only sign the KRS reform if lawmakers amended the bill so that judges are approved by 60 percent of parliament, rather than a simple majority, as is proposed in the bill's approved version.

After the populist Law and Justice party won power in 2015, it took on the country's system of checks and balances as it sought to cement its power, often passing contentious laws in the middle of the night and without any public consultation.

Earlier this law was approved by the lower house of Parliament, the Sejm, and for the entry into force remains the signature of the President.

The Senate's decision comes less than a month after President Donald Trump delivered a landmark speech to the Polish people in which he praised Poland's "place in a strong and democratic Europe".

This in turn could lead to Poland losing its voting rights in various European Union institutions.

But the opposition and judges groups in Poland as well as critics in Brussels say the legislation is a new step by the Polish government towards authoritarianism. More protests were planned for Saturday evening.

"Our generation succeeded in putting Poland back on track and ensuring the separation of powers", the former president said in the northern city of Gdansk.

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