Poles protest bill aimed at punishing judges

People gather in a protest against new bill on judges in front of the parliament in Warsaw, Poland, 18 December 2019. [Wojciech Olkusnik/EPA/EFE]

Thousands of people took to the streets across Poland Wednesday (18 December) to protest government proposals aimed at punishing judges critical of controversial judicial reforms.

The rallies erupted a day after the country’s top court warned the reform plans would risk EU membership if they were enacted.

Poland could end up leaving the EU, Supreme Court warns

Poland could end up leaving the European Union because of plans by the ruling nationalists that would allow judges to be fired if they question the legitimacy of the government’s judicial reforms, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday (17 December).

The Supreme Court said the plans appeared to be an attempt to force judges to apply all regulations even if they were “incompatible with higher legal norms”, which would be a breach of EU rules.

The ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) insists the reforms will tackle corruption but the opposition says PiS wants to gag critical magistrates.

“We live at a time where they don’t only drag us through the mud and gag us, but also… try to put us in jail,” Polish judge Igor Tuleya, a key opponent of the reforms, told a large crowd in Warsaw on Wednesday evening.

“That risks happening if this bill passes.”

Campaign groups had called for the protests in Warsaw and outside courts in dozens of other towns.

The Supreme Court warned Tuesday the proposals suggest judges could be removed for taking part in “activities of a political nature” or acting in a way that could “harm the functioning of the justice system”.

In a 40-page statement, it said the proposed rules would “very likely” lead to Poland being punished by the EU for failing to respect its treaty commitments.

If the government refused to back down, the country would have to leave the bloc, it added.

The European Court of Justice last month asked the Supreme Court to rule whether key parts of the reforms — a new judicial council and a disciplinary chamber — were free from political influence.

Polish reform erodes judicial autonomy: top court

Poland’s Supreme Court ruled on Thursday (5 December) that a new judicial council charged with nominating and disciplining judges lacks independence, calling into question the government’s court reforms.

The tribunal concluded that their independence was not guaranteed.

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