Poland's senate approves contentious court bill

The demonstration began at 7 p.m. Friday outside the Supreme Court in Warsaw after more than 100,000 people gathered in major cities the previous evening urging President Andrzej Duda to veto the legislation. Another measure it has advanced would disband an independent body that selects new judges, transferring that power to Parliament.

Critics say the law kills judicial independence and threatens the rule of law.

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The ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has rushed through its systemic overhaul of the top court.

The PiS has offered some concessions on demand from the president, but has presented criticism from overseas as unacceptable meddling in the domestic affairs of the country, which overthrew communism in 1989 and joined the European Union in 2004. He says the justice system needs "radical changes" to become efficient and reliable.

The opposition warned that the Senate's decision, which followed a stormy debate in both houses of parliament, undermined judicial independence and accused Poland's ruling conservatives of trying to stack courts with its own candidates.

The bill also calls for the dismissal of the court's current judges, except for those chosen by the president. It also introduces a disciplinary chamber that, on a motion from the justice minister, would handle suspected breaches of regulations or ethics.

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European Union officials disagree, and if the Supreme Court measure goes into effect, it could trigger an effort in Brussels to strip Poland of its voting rights in decisions of the bloc - a never-invoked nuclear option.

A new round of nationwide protests is expected yesterday across Poland that will urge Duda not to sign the legislation into law. "What is going on with the Polish, but also with the Hungarian and Turkish court systems clearly shows that the rule of law isn't self-evident, and that standing up for it is always relevant", Pikamäe said.

Senate Speaker Stanisław Karczewski of PiS said that changes in Poland's judiciary, including the country's Supreme Court, were "headed in the right direction". Tusk said Thursday that they should talk to prevent a "black scenario in which Poland is marginalized in the European Union".

Tusk said the steps the Polish government is taking toward the judiciary would allow it to limit social freedoms if it wants. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said Thursday that the European Union should stay out of Poland's domestic affairs, accusing it of a "witch hunt".

But he conceded that, during his seven years as Poland's prime minister, he did encounter some resistance against judicial reform.

The government of the EU's biggest eastern member state has so far dismissed criticism, saying the changes would ensure state institutions serve all Poles, not just the "elites". In theory, Poland could be deprived of its vote in the EU's council of governments, but such a move would have to be unanimous.

  • Megan Austin