Poland's President Sees Flaws In Controversial Law On Top Court

Protests outside the Presidential Palace

23 July, 2017

"This is a blatant attack by Poland's government on the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law", Lydia Gall of Human Rights Watch said in a statement, adding that the "deeply flawed" bill targeting Supreme Court judges "runs counter to European Union and Council of Europe standards".

They want President Andrzej Duda to veto a bill adopted by lawmakers on Thursday that gives the president the power to regulate the work of the Supreme Court and to appoint its judges.

The Polish government has continued to pursue legislation that appears to undermine judicial independence and weaken the rule of law in Poland.

Proposed by the ruling Law and Justice party, the measure would remove current members of the Supreme Court, except those handpicked by the justice minister, and grant the governing party power over future appointments. The head of state has 21 days to sign the document, veto it, or, if in doubt, submit it to the constitutional court.

It gives the president the power to issue regulations for the court's work.

Saying that the laws "would increase the systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland", the Commission urged Poland's leaders to hold off on making any changes and return to talks with the European Union that have been going on since January of 2016.

Since Thursday, tens of thousands have protested in Warsaw, Poznan, Krakow and other Polish cities in one of the biggest demonstrations since the 2015 election.

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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. "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.

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. Earlier this week it cleared the lower house and will now go to President Andrzej Duda.

He said asked Duda for a meeting even before Thursday's vote and urged him to find "serious means and serious partners" in trying to solve the situation. The bill passed 235-192 with 23 abstentions.

The changes were backed by the Law and Justice party, also known as as PiS. Duda formerly belonged to PiS, but as president is considered an independent whose responsibility it is to stand up to PiS party leader Jarosław Kaczyński, who is often considered the country's de facto leader.

Proposed by the populist party, it gives politicians control over Poland's Supreme Court, and critics say it kills judicial independence.

Ideally, therefore, victory needs to be won by the people of Poland, supported by democrats and progressives everywhere. The poll was conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday, amid large street protests against the party's plan for the judiciary.

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