EU tells Poland to rethink judicial changes

EU tells Poland to rethink judicial changes

The European Commission has given Poland a week to halt judicial changes it says will put the courts under direct government control.

Since winning power in 2015, the far-right Law and Justice (PiS) party has tightened its grip over the media, courts and prosecutors.

Lower house MPs this week voted through controversial reforms to remove and replace Supreme Court judges.

PiS say it will make the judicial system more effective and able to fight against corruption.

Donald Tusk, European Council President and ex-Polish prime minister, said the changes were a move “backwards”.

Tusk said he had asked President Andrzej Duda to discuss the changes, saying they went against EU values and risked marginalising his homeland.

The opposition, human rights activists and the EU claimed the moves undermined separation of power between the executive and the judiciary and thousands have protested across the country against the legislation.

“These laws considerably increase the systemic threats to the rule of law,” Vice President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, told the Brussels media.

“They would abolish any remaining judicial independence and put the judiciary under full political control of the government.”

Jaroslaw Kaczynski (pictured), chairman of PiS and Poland’s most powerful figure despite holding no formal role, said the EU should not be meddling in domestic, political issues.

“Those matters that we are dealing with right now belong exclusively to the jurisdiction of the country, so what we have here is an abuse,” Kaczynski told the state-run TVP.

“It’s simply an action that has a political character.”

The bill, passed by 235 votes to 192, would force all Supreme Court judges into retirement. PiS, the president and justice minister will largely be responsible for their reappointment.

The 15-member National Council of the Judiciary, which nominates both common and Supreme Court judges and is made up of judges selected by professional legal bodies, will now be chosen by MPs. Its judges will require at least 60 per cent of MPs to support them in order to be selected.

The separation of powers between executive, legislature and judiciary is a key democratic principle for the EU.

Last week Duda, a former member of PiS, proposed a compromise to make it harder for any government to change the make-up of the National Council of the Judiciary.

PiS claims changes are needed to make the judiciary accountable and not dominated by the “elites” that it says are the support base for the opposition.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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