Polish senate passes controversial new court reforms

Poland's senate adopted two controversial judicial bills, which the opposition claims are yet another step by the conservative majority towards undermining the separation of powers. 

Published: 16th July 2017 12:35 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th July 2017 12:35 AM   |  A+A-

Polish President Andrzej Duda, right, listens as President of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, speaks during the press conference after signing the bilateral documents in Warsaw, Poland, Friday, July 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)


WARSAW: Poland's senate on Saturday adopted two controversial judicial bills, which the opposition claims are yet another step by the conservative majority towards undermining the separation of powers. 

The first bill stipulates that from now on the parliament -- which is controlled by the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party -- will choose the members of the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), whose role is to protect the independence of courts.

The second bill states that the minister of justice will name the chief justices for the EU member's common courts.

"We're implementing good changes for Poles, for those who are waiting for a well-functioning system of justice," Senate speaker Stanislaw Karczewski, a PiS member, told reporters.

Both texts were adopted earlier this week by the lower house of parliament and now they need only to be signed by President Andrzej Duda, who is closely allied with the PiS, to become law.

Senator Bogdan Borusewicz, from the Civil Platform (PO) main opposition party, said that "both bills destroy judicial independence."

A large protest against the legal reforms is scheduled for Sunday in front of the lower house of parliament and was organised by the KOD pro-democracy movement, which is critical of the PiS party's policies on media, education and the courts.

On Thursday, the PiS tabled a separate bill in parliament that would subjugate the Supreme Court -- which supervises lower courts -- to executive power, in a move the opposition slammed as "the announcement of a coup". 

The proposed bill stipulates that the current Supreme Court judges will be forced to retire, with the exception of those indicated by the justice minister, who would also be responsible for selecting candidates to succeed the retired judges.

The PiS has already run afoul of the European Commission and critics at home for implementing reforms of the Constitutional Court, whose main role is to check that laws are compliant with the Constitution.

The reforms include changing the order in which cases are heard and how the chief justice is chosen. 

Critics also cite other PiS bids to consolidate power including moves to increase state control over public broadcasters.

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