Poles take to streets for protest as senators mull court revamp

Protests outside the Presidential Palace

23 July, 2017

"Its leaders say the measure - which among other things, ousts the current Supreme Court judges - is aimed at reforming the judicial system and to ensure any vestiges of communism are purged".

Poland's Senate approved the legislation early on July 22.

The measures require the signature of President Andrzej Duda, whose veto is becoming the last hope for opponents of the legislation.

Opposition groups and other critics have said the legislation is part of a power grab by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party that would undermine the EU's liberal principles.

The Polish bill calls for replacing all Supreme Court judges except those elected by a judicial panel chosen by parliament.

The EU Commission professes concern about the "rule of law" and threatens to invoke Article 7.

Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Warsaw and cities across Poland for candle-lit vigils to protest against the draft bill, as the Senate debated it late into the night.

Opposition lawmakers also fiercely contested the bill, resulting in heated arguments in parliament.

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

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The negotiation is expected to be complicated, as May's minority government will face challenges at every step in the process. This was "more a technical argument" and still had to be negotiated with the EU, Fox said.

The government of the EU's biggest eastern member state has so far dismissed criticism, saying the changes would ensure state institutions serve all Poles, not just the "elites".

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

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

European Union president, Donald Tusk, Poland's former prime minister, has appealed to President Andrzej Duda for a meeting to seek ways out of the situation that, he said, goes against EU values and is destructive to Poland's global image.

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. Marek Pek, a Law and Justice senator, said the aim is to restore the proper balance of powers.

The legislation sailed through the upper house of the parliament with no amendments, the Polish Press Agency (PAP) said.

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".

"Poland's president should be concerned about a situation that is, let's say, serious", Tusk said.

Since coming into power in 2015, the PiS has sought to tighten government influence over courts, and brought prosecutors and state media under direct government control. The poll was conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday, amid large street protests against the party's plan for the judiciary.

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