Poland’s Kaczynski says sticking to judicial reform plans

Jarosław Kaczyński [Wikimedia]

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party is sticking to its plans to reform the judiciary but will wait for proposals from President Andrzej Duda before taking further action, its head Jaroslaw Kaczynski said on Thursday (27 July).

Kaczynski told private broadcaster TV Trwam Duda’s veto this week of two bills to overhaul the Supreme Court and the National Council of the Judiciary was a “very serious mistake”, but the focus needed to be on how to proceed.

Polish president vetoes controversial court reforms

Poland’s president on Monday (24 July) vetoed controversial judicial reforms that had prompted huge street protests and threats of unprecedented EU sanctions.

“The reform of the judiciary must be radical, because partial reform won’t change anything,” Kaczynski said in an interview with the ultra-Catholic television station Trwam, whose audience comprises diehard supporters of the
governing PiS party.

The PiS-controlled parliament this month passed three contested judicial reforms that critics feared would undermine the separation of powers.

But in a shock move, President Andrzej Duda this week vetoed two of them, adding to pushback from street protesters, the opposition and the EU.

“That was a mistake, a very serious mistake,” Kaczynski said of the vetoes by Duda, who is a close PiS ally and until now had always rubber-stamped everything sent his way.

“Now we have to think about how to get out of this, what to do so that this ends up being just an incident, which will quickly be forgotten, while we forge ahead.”

The vetoed reforms would have increased political control over the judiciary, including the Supreme Court, and Duda said they did “not strengthen the sense of justice.”

Thousands of protesters had taken to the streets across Poland in recent days to oppose the reforms, while both the EU and the US voiced their concern.

Candlelight protest against changes to Poland's judiciary

Thousands of demonstrators bearing candles marched on the Polish Supreme Court on Sunday (23 July) in protest against controversial proposed judicial reforms.

European Commission vice president Frans Timmermans said following the vetoes that Brussels was still putting Warsaw on notice amid continuing fears that the Polish government’s reforms could jeopardise the independence of the judiciary.

“The commission’s recommendation asks the Polish authorities not to take any measure to dismiss or force the retirement of supreme court judges,” Timmermans said, warning that the EU could halt the country’s voting rights in the bloc.

Commission threatens to trigger ‘nuclear option’ for Poland

The European Commission has “substantial concerns” about the rule of law in Poland. The ongoing reform of the judiciary, meant to increase the government’s control over the judicial system, has pushed the College of Commissioners to issue a third set of recommendations to the Polish government.

The government had defended the reforms, calling them indispensable to combat corruption and streamline the judicial system.

The vetoed reforms now return for amendment to parliament, where they require a three-fifths majority — which the PiS does not have — to go through unchanged. Duda said he would table his own versions of the laws within two months.

The PiS began making changes to the judiciary, including the Constitutional Court, after coming to power in late 2015 following eight years in the opposition.