PiS approves judicial law
Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) MPs have approved two bills allowing parliament and the president to replace judges, seen by the opposition and the European Commission as undermining the independence of the judiciary.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets after the vote.
On Friday, protests were staged in numerous cities, with a large demonstration in the capital, Warsaw.
Demonstrators chanted “Free courts, free elections, free Poland!”
The protests were dominated by young Poles and the organisers made an effort for it not to be directly connected to the opposition but instead showcasing actors and celebrities reading poetry and making speeches.
Once signed into law by President Andrzej Duda (pictured), the bills will increase the controversial government’s standoff with the EU, which could reduce the flow of EU development funding to Poland.
Details of the revised bills are yet to be made public.
Duda vetoed a PiS bill in July that would have given the justice minister powers to sack and appoint judges amid large street protests.
The opposition and the EU say the revised versions drafted by Duda’s office still threaten the rule of law.
Duda, a former PiS backbencher, and the ruling party reached an agreement this month on the shape of the judicial reform, according to which parliament will need a 60-per-cent majority to appoint members of the National Council of the Judiciary, which appoints Polish judges.
The European Commission has expressed concern that certain aspects of the bills, such as forcing 40 per cent of Supreme Court judges into retirement, are incompatible with EU law.
The bloc has threatened to impose sanctions if the bills are actively enforced.
Since coming to power in 2015, PiS has repeatedly clashed with Brussels over migration policies and media restrictions.
PiS has a parliamentary majority but not 60 per cent of seats. PiS head Jaroslaw Kaczynski has said reform of the judicial system was needed because the courts were inefficient and “communist” influenced.
The opposition says the changes point towards the party’s drive into authoritarianism, giving the government the tools to politicise the judiciary, removing its independence. If PiS controls the courts, it jeopardises the holding of free elections, it is argued.
President Andrzej Duda. Picture credit: Wikimedia