Published: Sun, July 23, 2017
World Media | By Joan Schultz

Crowds Gather in Warsaw to Protest Judicial Reforms

Crowds Gather in Warsaw to Protest Judicial Reforms

Poland's lawmakers on Thursday approved a law that gives the president, not judges, the power to regulate the work of the Supreme Court and to appoint its judges.

Law & Justice has been rushing through its reform, which would force into immediate retirement all Supreme Court judges with little or no debate and without consulting the judiciary.

The Polish government's move to overhaul its Supreme Court - to politicise it - has been approved. The Supreme Court's tasks include validating elections.

It is unlikely that the European Union would be able to remove Poland's voting rights over its judicial reforms, for instance, because Hungary would be able to veto such a motion and has indicated its willingness to do so.

In the best-case scenario, Poland will see its clout in Brussels wane further. "We can not allow anyone to destroy that". "We will not allow ourselves to be pushed out of the European Union".

Fellow central European power Hungary has stood by Poland's rulers, saying the EU should not overstep its authority. The lower house of Parliament gave its approval earlier this week.

Tens of thousands also demonstrated in other Polish cities.

Opponents of the Polish government are protesting in front of the parliament building in Warsaw after the adoption of a bill that gives the president control over the Supreme Court instead of judges.

The government says the changes are needed to make courts accountable and to ensure state institutions serve all Poles, not just the "elites" that it says are the support base for the centrist opposition.

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In addition to several thousand protesters across Poland, human rights groups and leaders in Europe condemned the recent moves by PiS to consolidate control as anti-democratic.

Prime Minister Beata Szydlo says the legislation is an internal matter and the government will not bow to any foreign pressure.

To become law, the proposed bill has to be signed by President Andrzej Duda, an ally of the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party.

"If adopted, [the laws] would seriously erode the independence of the Polish judiciary", First Vice-President Frans Timmermans stated following the European Commission meeting earlier this week.

Since being elected in 2015, PiS has tightened government control over courts and prosecutors, as well as state media, and introduced restrictions on public gatherings and the activity of non-governmental organisations.

As the Senate vote neared, the U.S. State Department issued a statement Friday urging 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".

Public protests are planned for Thursday evening.

Tusk, former Polish prime minister, wrote in a statement Thursday that "Subjecting the court to one ruling party in the way that Law and Justice has proposed it will ruin already strained opinion on Poland's democracy".

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