Polish president suggests compromise over court reforms

Demonstrators protest against judicial reforms in Warsaw on July 16, 2017

Warsaw (AFP) – Polish President Andrzej Duda on Tuesday made a surprise compromise bid over controversial court reforms, as thousands of protesters took to the streets. 

Last week parliament, which is controlled by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, adopted judicial reforms that the liberal opposition and others see as a threat to the separation of powers. 

The legislation would give the minister of justice the power to name the chief justices of the EU member’s common courts. 

In addition, parliament would choose members of the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), whose role is to protect the independence of courts. 

The PiS also tabled a separate bill in parliament that would subjugate the Supreme Court — which supervises lower courts — to executive power, in a move the opposition criticised as “the announcement of a coup”. 

“The judicial system is a very serious matter. It requires reform, but it requires smart reform,” lawyer-turned-politician Duda, who is closely allied with the governing conservatives, told reporters.

Duda, who needs to sign the legislation for it to become law, warned he would not approve the reform of the Supreme Court unless lawmakers amended the KRS bill.

He tabled a short draft bill stating that the members of the KRS would need to be elected by 60 percent of lawmakers.

Because that is a majority that the PiS does not have, the threshold would rule out the possibility that the party would single-handedly decide the composition of the KRS.

“This draft bill should stop the Council from being subject to a single party, a single political group. This is unacceptable… It would be seen as a political diktat,” Duda said. 

Prime Minister Beata Szydlo later told lawmakers that her party “will carry out the reforms all the way through.”

After taking to the streets on Sunday, several thousand people protested again against the reforms Tuesday in Warsaw and other cities across Poland.

Candles in hand, they called on Duda to oppose the reforms and chanted “free courts, we want a veto”. 

The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Nils Muiznieks tweeted Tuesday: “Poland’s govt & parl must stop undermining the judiciary.”

Critics also cite other PiS bids to consolidate power, including moves to increase state control over public broadcasters.


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