Published: Fri, July 21, 2017
Life&Culture | By Kristin Armstrong

Poland prime minister defends courts legislation

Poland prime minister defends courts legislation

Poland's right-wing government is in trouble because it is interfering with the principle of an independent judiciary, which is considered sacrosanct by the powers that be in Brussels. But the opposition sees this as a weakening of the separation of powers and an attempt to lock down the country. But critics charge that the way the changes have been framed is ostensibly unconstitutional.

The European Commission has issued Poland's government with a stern warning, complaining that its plans "collectively would abolish any remaining judicial independence and put the judiciary under full political control of the government". It moved to do so after PiS engineered a friendly lineup of another top court, the Constitutional Tribunal. The gatherings were a continuation of demonstrations that began over the weekend and grew more massive on the day the parliament was debating the controversial bill. Rallies had also been planned for dozens of cities and towns across the country.

The second bill states that the justice minister will name the chief justices of Poland's common courts. The bill also provides for the establishment of the new Disciplinary Chamber within the Supreme Court, which will make final determinations on disciplinary actions against all judges in the country. It calls for the dismissal of the court's current judges, except for those chosen by the president. The suggestions aim to shield a supreme judicial body, the National Council of the Judiciary, from the influence of the ruling party.

The passing of the supreme court bill - as well as other legislation that will allow for reforms to the judiciary that are to the party's liking - is bound to elicit further tough responses from Brussels.

But Poland's governing, conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party has said sweeping changes are needed to reform an inefficient and sometimes corrupt judicial system.

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(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski). Government opponents protest in front of the parliament building in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, July 16, 2017, to protest the latest changes in legislation that reorganized the judiciary.

But Timmermans added that "we are very close to triggering article seven" - the bloc's never-before used "nuclear option" that can halt a country's right to vote in European Union meetings.

The EU's Article 7 powers have been in place since 1997 but have never been deployed against any member state.

The Polish government's moves to take control of the judiciary are being closely watched in Brussels, where earlier in the week Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans warned it is "very close" to triggering Article 7 proceedings against Poland, a process which, in the unlikely event that Poland's allies don't block it, could lead to the suspension of the country's voting rights in the EU.

After hearing that the Supreme Court bill got a majority of votes in parliament, some of the protesters who have been gathered outside parliament since the weekend lined up against police barriers, lay on the ground, and cried "Shame" and "The Parliament is ours, not yours!"

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