Czech judges denounce Poland's legal overhaul as attack on freedom

Posted July 23, 2017

Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party says the changes are needed to make courts more accountable and to ensure state institutions serve all Poles, not just the "elites" it says are the support base for the centrist opposition.

Last week Poland's parliament passed two other government-backed bills which would allow the justice minister to appoint judges to the country's district and appeals courts, and a 60 percent parliamentary majority to nominate judges to an influential judicial ethics supervisory council.

Thousands have taken took to the streets in opposition to the proposed judicial changes in Poland, accusing Law and Justice of aiming to stack courts with its own candidates and to dismantle the rule of law.

Duda now has 21 days to sign the legislation into law.

Despite mass peaceful protests, the legislation on the Supreme Court was approved by the Senate on Saturday and only requires the approval of President Andrzej Duda to become law. Opponents say the legislation will destroy judicial independence and violate the rule of law.

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"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.

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.

After the bill passed the lower house of Polish parliament, European Commission's First Vice-President Frans Timmermans issued a strong statement urging the government to reconsider and saying that its recent actions "defy European values and standards".

In her nationwide speech, Beata Szydlo said that the legislation was prompted by public criticism of the legal system's inefficiency and blamed the outcry it has triggered on the opposition's "frustration".

Her comments appeared to refer to warnings from the European Union of sanctions against Poland, including the possibility of stripping Warsaw of its EU voting rights.

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They also want any and all political prisoners to be released. "But these seven million people spoke, and it was plenty". Clashes between protesters and police have left at least 93 people dead , 1,500 wounded and more than 500 behind bars.

Sources close to the Presidential Palace told Reuters news agency that President Andrzej Duda was on holiday on the Baltic coast. Critics say the bill kills judicial independence and puts judges under political control. Marek Pek, a Law and Justice senator, said the aim is to restore the proper balance of powers. It calls for the dismissal of the court's current judges, except those chosen by the president.

After more than 15 hours of debate, the upper house of the Polish parliament approved its judicial reform bill which Brussels has warned might cost Warsaw certain rights in the European Council.

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.

Since being elected in 2015, PiS has sought to tighten government control over the courts, brought prosecutors and state media under direct government control.

"We continue to have conversations at the highest level with the government of Poland and express our concerns".

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Public protests are planned for Thursday evening.