Polish Plan to Punish Judges Who Dissent Triggers Protests

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — New legislation being pushed by Poland’s populist ruling party that allows judges to be fired for dissenting with the government violates both judicial independence and the primacy of European Union law, a Polish parliamentary office warned Wednesday.

People take part in a street demonstration to show solidarity with judges facing increased political pressure from the country’s right-wing government in Warsaw, Poland, on Dec. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

The warning by parliament’s Bureau of Research comes after the Supreme Court warned a day earlier that the legislation could ultimately lead to Poland leaving the 28-nation European Union.

The warnings come ahead of street protests planned in cities and towns across Poland on Wednesday evening in an effort to stop the legislation.

Among other items in the draft law expected to be passed Thursday in the lower house, the right-wing government would have the power to discipline judges who carry out rulings in line with EU law, including questioning judicial appointments. The Supreme Court said that could put Poland irremediably at odds with the European bloc.

If passed, the laws would give the government the power to fire or fine judges  who rule in ways or express positions that it doesn’t like. One new provision would require judges to declare what associations they are affiliated with and all names under which they appear online.

Critics call the draft legislation repressive and fear it would lead to a final blow against any independence left for Poland’s judicial system after four years of overhauls by the conservative governing party, Law and Justice.

The Supreme Court said those provisions represent a “continuation of the lawlessness of the 1980s,” a time when Poland was ruled by a repressive communist regime.

“Everything is there: a ban on the use of freedom of speech by judges, the establishment of a surveillance mechanism and a drastic reduction of their right to have profiles on social networks,” the court said.

Although Law and Justice over the last four years took control of the Constitutional Tribunal, the public prosecution system and a body that appoints judges, the EU court blocked key measures that would have given it control of the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, many Polish judges have continued to assert their independence, issuing judgments that in some cases have gone against the interests of the ruling authorities. For instance, journalists accused by the party of defamation for critical remarks and investigations have won many cases in court. So have several people who have sued the government for the country’s dangerously high smog levels.

The right-wing ruling party has long argued that its changes are necessary to make the justice system more efficient.

Law and Justice has a majority in the lower house of parliament, meaning the legislation is likely to pass there. The Senate, however, is controlled by the opposition and will seek to block it. But the upper house is much less powerful, and while it can slow down the passage of the laws and suggest changes, it cannot stop them entirely.

Malgorzata Gersdorf, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, says the law on disciplining judges is the most dangerous law affecting the judiciary to date under the Law and Justice government.

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By VANESSA GERA Associated Press

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