BY MONIKA SCISLOWSKA
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s parliament voted Friday to approve legislation that will make it easier for the ruling party to appoint the president and members of the Supreme Court and influence judges.
It was the latest development in the right-wing ruling party’s overhaul of the justice system that has sparked outrage from the opposition and from international law experts. European Union leaders say the changes threaten member Poland’s rule of law and have opened sanctioning procedures.
Dominated by the ruling Law and Justice party, the lower house voted 230-24 with four abstentions to approve the legislation that will also make it easier for the party to influence the work of judges in lower courts. It still needs approval from the Law and Justice-controlled Senate, and from President Andrzej Duda, who hails from the party.
The party argues the changes are designed to make the justice system more efficient and remove communist-era judges.
A protest by opponents was taking place Friday in front of the parliament building.
In the heated debate, opposition lawmakers said the Law and Justice party was dealing a deadly blow to Poland’s justice system. Piotr Misilo of the Modern party said Law and Justice members will be taken to court for their actions.
The job and the independence of the Supreme Court’s chief justice are at the center of a major political battle in Poland.
Recent legislation has lowered retirement age limits for judges to 65 from 70, so the ruling party considers chief Judge Malgorzata Gersdorf to be retired.
Gersdorf, however, has continued to show up for work, insisting that, according to Poland’s constitution, her term runs until early 2020.
Earlier Friday, Duda, the president, said he is hoping to win approval for a November referendum on whether the country’s constitution should be changed and if so, to what extent.
Duda, who thinks the 1997 constitution needs revising, is urging the Senate to give its approval for a Nov. 10-11 referendum of 10 questions. These include whether the constitution should confirm Poland’s European Union and NATO memberships, its Christian roots, the right-wing government’s policy of family bonuses as well as everyone’s right to work.
The proposed timing of the referendum, marking 100 years of Poland’s independence, may conflict, however, with key local elections scheduled around that time.