Poland: Independence of the Judiciary



After more than 16 hours of debate, 55 senators voted in favour of the bill to 23 against and two abstentions, reports Efe news.

As the senate appeared ready to pass a law giving the ruling party the right to dismiss the entire Supreme Court, a survey by Warsaw-based research institution Ibris showed that 37% of Poles continue to back the party, a 16 point lead over.

The second bill stipulates that from now on the parliament, instead of an independent body, will choose the members of the National Council of the Judiciary, which is meant to protect the independence of the courts.

Poland is poised to dissolve a key separation of government powers, as President Andrzej Duda is expected to sign a bill that puts the nation's Supreme Court under the control of the ruling party, despite citizens' protests and pleas from allies in the European Union and U.S. He says the justice system needs "radical changes" to become efficient and reliable.

In Poland, past presidents, activists and rights groups were among those to speak out against the judicial reforms, raising concerns about the erosion of laws and freedoms in Poland.

Opponents say the legislation will destroy judicial independence and violate the rule of law.

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Duda has 21 days to sign the bill into law.

The Supreme Court bill still needs approval from the Senate and from Duda, who hails from the ruling party.

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The European Union has threatened to impose sanctions on Poland for possible infractions of EU law, in a rift that's grown since Duda and his party won both the presidency and Parliament in 2015. "We will not be intimidated by Polish and foreign defenders of the interests of the elite", the prime minister said in an address on state television.

The bill is sponsored by the populist ruling Law and Justice party.

Beata Szydlo said Thursday night that the legislation was a result of public criticism of the legal system's inefficiency and blamed the public outcry it has triggered on the "frustration" of the opposition.

"We urge all sides to ensure that any judicial reform does not violate Poland's constitution or global legal obligations and respects the principles of judicial independence and separation of powers", it said in a statement.

Tusk said in a statement that the PiS moves on courts were backwards, went "against European standards and values", harmed Poland's reputation and risked marginalising the country.

"The price for judicial independence, which is a value, was a lack of compulsory reform", Tusk said.

The EU first warned Poland in early 2016 over reforms of the constitutional court, whose main role is to check that laws comply with the constitution.

That would involve all European Union member states unanimously agreeing to warn the Polish government about its conduct.