Poland's senate approves controversial court reform

Once the Senate approves the bill, it only needs President Duda to sign it into law.

The reform bill will empower parliament and the justice minister to appoint judges to the Supreme Court.The opposition, critics in Brussels and judges' groups in Poland say the legislation is a new step by the Polish government towards authoritarianism.

The Polish government has continued to pursue legislation that appears to undermine judicial independence and weaken the rule of law in Poland.

The bill is sponsored by the populist ruling Law and Justice party.

The president has 21 days to sign it, and is not expected to do it before his meeting Monday with the head of the court, Malgorzata Gersdorf.

The upper house was debating a draft law to dismiss supreme court judges and let the president replace them with his appointees.

Saying that the laws "would increase the systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland", the Commission urged Poland's leaders to hold off on making any changes and return to talks with the European Union that have been going on since January of 2016.

Since Thursday, tens of thousands have protested in Warsaw, Poznan, Krakow and other Polish cities in one of the biggest demonstrations since the 2015 election.

The Supreme Court bill still needs approval from the Senate and from Duda, who hails from the ruling party.

Tusk said in a statement that the PiS moves on courts were backwards, went "against European standards and values", harmed Poland's reputation and risked marginalising the country.

But he conceded that, during his seven years as Poland's prime minister, he did encounter some resistance against judicial reform.

"We urge all sides to ensure that any judicial reform does not violate Poland's constitution or global legal obligations and respects the principles of judicial independence and separation of powers", it said in a statement.

It is unlikely that the European Union would be able to remove Poland's voting rights over its judicial reforms, for instance, because Hungary would be able to veto such a motion and has indicated its willingness to do so.

Opponents of the move argue that it will demolish judicial independence and separation of powers in the country, marking a major shift for a ruling government that has already been accused of pursuing an illiberal agenda.

The changes were backed by the Law and Justice party, also known as as PiS.

In his double function also as chairman of the Network of the Presidents of the Supreme Judicial Courts of the European Union, Pikamäe has met with the European Commission's first vice president, Frans Timmermans, to discuss the situation in Poland.

During the 15-hour debate thousands of demonstrators took to the streets nationwide to protest the law, which reinforces political control over the Supreme Court. We urge all sides to ensure that any judicial reform does not violate Poland's constitution or global legal obligations and respects the principles of judicial independence and separation of powers.

  • Stacy Allen