Polish parliament approves controversial Supreme Court bill

Reforms are taking a toll on the right-wing government's popularity: A banner demanding that PiS chief Jarosław Kaczyński leave Poland. [Reuters]

Poland’s lower house of parliament adopted on Thursday (20 July) a controversial Supreme Court bill, setting the country further on collision course with Brussels, which has accused it of undermining the basic principles of the rule of law.

The Sejm passed the bill — which the European Commission, legal experts and the Polish opposition say will abolish the judiciary’s independence — with the vote of 235 deputies. Against were 192 deputies and 23 abstained.

The European Commission will meet next week to decide whether to activate Article 7 against Poland — a last-resort measure to rein in member states seen as violating the basic human rights and the rule of law. If approved, Poland could temporarily be stripped of its voting rights in the European Council.

Timmermans dangles Article 7, makes appeal to the Poles

The Commission is likely to call for the triggering of Article 7 next Wednesday (26 July) with respect to Poland, often referred to as “the nuclear option” to punish an EU member state, it emerged following the weekly meeting of the EU executive today (19 July).

The bill, part of a three-bill judiciary reform package — will on Friday go to the upper house, the Senate, which will convene for an ad-hoc sitting to approve the legislation. After that, only President Andrzej Duda can veto the laws and block them from taking effect.

The other two bills deal with the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS) and the common courts system. Both have already been sent to the president for approval.

Polish parliament debates controversial Supreme Court reform bill

Polish lawmakers have started debating a controversial bill on Supreme Court reforms, which opposition parties, the Polish Ombudsman and most legal experts say breaches the Polish constitution and may curb the independence of the judiciary.

The three bills “damage the separation of powers and create a new political system by subjugating the judiciary to the Minister of Justice, which is against Constitution,” Ryszard Piotrowski, a doctor of law from Warsaw University. told EURACTIV.pl.

“The Supreme Court bill liquidates the Supreme Court as such and creates a new organ under that name. It will be subordinated to the minister, so it will meet the constitutional standard only by name,”  Piotrowski added.

Protest marches against the judiciary reform will be staged in more than 90 Polish cities on Thursday evening.  In Warsaw alone, three separate demonstrations are planned.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), which has dismissed criticism from opponents and the EU that its policies threaten basic media freedom and civil liberties, says the aim of the reforms is to make the Supreme Court more accountable and efficient.

 

Thousands protest 'coup against constitution' in Poland

Thousands of Poles protested on Sunday (16 July) against the government’s attempts to secure full control over the judiciary. EURACTIV Poland’s editor-in-chief reports from Warsaw.

European Council President Donald Tusk, who hails from Poland, released a statement responding to the parliament vote, in which he once again called on Polish President Andrzej Duda to meet and talk about their country’s “standing on the world stage”.