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Poles Rally Against Government’s Judicial Overhaul

Rightist government says judges are corrupt and immoral, so it needs more powers to hire and fire them.

17 July 2017

Demonstrators took to the streets of Warsaw and other cities yesterday to protest legislative proposals they claim will give the conservative government too much influence over the legal system.

 

One bill would trim the powers of the National Council of the Judiciary, the body that safeguards the independence of courts and judges, Radio Poland reports. A second bill would make the justice ministry solely responsible for appointing heads of district and appeals courts.

 

One of the bills awaits only President Andrzej Duda’s signature in order to become law, the BBC reports.

 

 

A separate bill sent to parliament this week would allow the justice minister to sack the entire Supreme Court and appoint their replacements.

 

About 4,500 protesters in Warsaw, according to a police estimate, chanted and waved signs. Opposition groups said the changes were unconstitutional and could harm democracy, and called on Duda to veto the changes. Duda was elected with the backing of the ruling Law and Justice and has generally marched in step with its strongly Catholic, nationalist views.

 

The government defends the bill as a housecleaning measure to get rid of judges it says are corrupt and beholden to the interests of elites.

 

Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said “We want to end corporatism and introduce the oxygen of democracy [in the judiciary], … Because Poland is a democracy based on the rule of law. This is not court-ocracy.”

 

Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski on Friday said the judiciary “suffers from two serious illnesses: the first is the collapse of moral principles, professional morality, general morality,” according to Radio Poland.

 

“The second issue is huge inefficiency, delays in cases, which cause many people to suffer in different ways.”

 

Many Poles share those views, the BBC’s correspondent says.

 

 

  • The ruling party was leading the country toward a “socialist dictatorship” with a judiciary under the thumbs of politicians, economist Leszek Balcerowicz said at yesterday’s rally in Warsaw. Balcerowicz was the driving force behind the rapid introduction of market reforms after the fall of communism in 1989, Radio Poland says.

 

  • In February the European Commission yesterday said the appointment of a new head of Poland’s Constitutional Court was “fundamentally flawed” and repeated its calls for the reversal of changes to the tribunal. Poland indicated it would not implement steps recommended by the Commission to protect the powers of the court, Reuters reported.

Compiled by Ky Krauthamer

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