Poland Resumes Work on Judicial Overhaul at Center of EU Dispute

Poland’s ruling party will resume work on an overhaul of the nation’s judiciary that’s triggered an unprecedented threat of sanctions by the European Union and protests from groups who say the government is sliding toward authoritarianism.
Parliament will begin debate Wednesday on a package of laws aimed at forcing Supreme Court judges from their benches and giving politicians more sway over judiciary appointments. The legislative push follows a four-month break by the ruling Law & Justice party in which it regrouped after the president vetoed an earlier version amid outcry from EU officials and nationwide demonstrations.
“The situation is absolutely critical -- this government will be able to govern forever if these drafts become laws,” Warsaw University law professor Marcin Matczak said Tuesday. "With other nominees of the executive already in control of the Constitutional Court, they will be able to do whatever they want."
The laws are crucial to Law & Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s vow to reroute Poland’s post-Communist transformation away from the liberal, multi-cultural model espoused by the EU and return the country to its traditional Catholic roots. Lambasting the judiciary as an entitled clique that sees itself above the law, he’s promised to bring courts under the control of elected officials. That has prompted some EU leaders to threaten to withhold economic aid from the bloc’s fifth-poorest member.
The new package envisages lowering the mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court justices to 65 years from 70, which would force about two fifths of the approximately 80 judges -- spread among four chambers -- to leave. It also bestows the right of choosing members of the National Judiciary Council, a powerful panel that decides about judicial appointments and promotions, to parliament rather than the judges themselves.

Anti-Government Rallies

"We want the judiciary to be subject not just to an institutional change, but also personnel changes that will involve a mental transformation of the whole group," Stanislaw Piotrowicz, a Law & Justice lawmaker who’s the face of the party’s overhaul push, said this month.
Twenty-eight democracy-advocacy groups, including some that organized the summer demonstrations, said on Tuesday that the drafts drastically breach the constitutionand vowed to start nationwide protests on Friday. Poland’s ombudsman said last month that the package will remove the last safety valves for democracy in the country of 38 million people.
The European Parliament is now examining possible sanctions against Poland, opening a second risk for Warsaw after the European Commission’s launch last year of its first-ever probe into whether a member state is breaching the rule of law.
The new proposals follow President Andrzej Duda’s unexpected veto of two thirds of a previous package in July. In September, the president returned with counter proposals, which softened some of the most controversial issues, while continuing to give politicians power over the judiciary. Duda, who rose to the presidency with Kaczynski’s backing, met with the Law & Justice leader several times to discuss his versions of the amendments.
“Unfortunately today, we’re pretty much at the same point we were at July when the president vetoed the legislation,” Bogumil Kolmasiak, from the Democratic Action group, told a news conference where he announced the protest plan on Tuesday. “If the first demonstrations fail to trigger changes, we’ll protest as long as needed.”
Poland Resumes Work on Judicial Overhaul at Center of EU Dispute Poland Resumes Work on Judicial Overhaul at Center of EU Dispute Reviewed by Alexander Von Stern on 22:03:00 Rating: 5