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Poland's senate approves controversial court reform

23 July 2017

Once the bill is signed, the ruling Law and Justice Party, or PiS, will have the ability to force the resignation of all of Poland's top judges and appoint its own members to the Supreme Court.

Poland's Senate approved the measure early Saturday, capping days of debate and demonstrations.

An opinion poll for private television TVN showed on Friday that 55 percent of respondents said President Andrzej Duda should veto the overhaul of the judiciary, 29 percent said he should not veto it.

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.

Under the current system, candidates for the Supreme Court are selected by an independent body consisting mainly of judges but also included a few politicians.

But the Czech judges said the bill was an attack on the Polish judiciary's independence.

Tens of thousands have protested - with rallies and candle-lit vigils - even the former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa addressed crowds in Gdansk in scenes reminiscent of the 1980's.

Thousands turn out to rally against new bill allowing parliament to appoint supreme court, with European Union also voicing concern.

WARSAW-Poland is giving the government sweeping powers over its judiciary, a move that is rattling European Union leaders and USA diplomats but hasn't shifted voters much at home. Poland faces serious global consequences for politicizing courts, though nobody in Brussels wants to "assault" the country, he said when asked if the European Union is likely to impose sanctions. The article allows the union to pursue sanctions against a member state if that country is said to be committing fundamental rights violations. Earlier this week it cleared the lower house and will now go to President Andrzej Duda.

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

The changes were backed by the Law and Justice party, also known as as PiS.

After more than 15 hours of debate, the upper house of the Polish parliament approved its judicial reform bill which Brussels has warned might cost Warsaw certain rights in the European Council.

Duda has so far not accepted an invitation for talks on the issue from European Council President Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, Japan Times reported.

"The price for judicial independence, which is a value, was a lack of compulsory reform", Tusk said.

Opponents of the move argue that it will demolish judicial independence and separation of powers in the country, marking a major shift for a ruling government that has already been accused of pursuing an illiberal agenda.

While PiS remains broadly popular among many Poles, particularly poorer and older voters from the countryside, there have been widespread protests against the plans.

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

Poland's senate approves controversial court reform