Polish Lawmakers OK Law on Political Control of Top Court

By MONIKA SCISLOWSKA

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish lawmakers voted Thursday to approve a contentious law that gives control of the nation’s Supreme Court to the president instead of to judges, sparking new protests outside parliament in Warsaw.

The bill on the Supreme Court has drawn condemnation from the European Union and has led to street protests. Critics say it kills judicial independence and violates the rule of law.

The new law, proposed by the ruling populist Law and Justice party, gives the nation’s president the power to influence the court’s work and to appoint its judges. It calls for the dismissal of the court’s current judges, except for those chosen by the president.

The vote Thursday was 235-192 with 23 abstentions. It came after a parliamentary commission summarily rejected 1,300 opposition amendments to it.

It still needs to win approval from the Senate, which is expected to be granted at a session Friday, and by President Andrzej Duda, who has so far followed the ruling party line.

Protesters on Thursday were kicking the metal barriers that separate them from the parliament and chanting “Shame.” Some carried banners urging Duda to veto the bill.

The new law is part of the ruling party’s drive to reorganize all levels of Poland’s judiciary. The party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, insists the justice system needs radical reform and new people because, he says, it still works along communist-era lines and is based on people from that previous political system.

Judges dispute his claims. But many observers say the justice system is inefficient and needs reform.

Opposition lawmaker and former justice minister Borys Budka says the bill makes the judges dependent on one party and denies citizens the right to independent courts. He also condemned the speed with which the bill was passed, saying it was done without proper public consultation.

Supreme Court chief Malgorzata Gersdorf says, on average, the court takes seven months to rule on a case, which she calls a good result, given that the court handles the most difficult and complicated matters.

The European Commission has warned it could strip Poland of its European Union voting rights over the changes the government is making to the judiciary. Duda has rejected a request for a meeting from EU leader Donald Tusk, according to one of Duda’s top aides.

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