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article imagePolish parliament adjourns vote on contested court reform

By Anna Maria Jakubek (AFP)     Jul 18, 2017 in Politics

Polish lawmakers suspended their debate on a controversial reform to the Supreme Court until Wednesday, after the leader of the governing party unleashed a diatribe against the opposition.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, was incensed by the mention of his late twin brother in arguments against the judicial reform under consideration.

"Don't wipe your treacherous mouths with my late brother's name. You destroyed him, you murdered him, you are scoundrels," Kaczynski said.

His brother Lech Kaczynski, who was president of Poland at the time of his death, was killed along with 95 other people when their presidential jet crashed in Russia in 2010.

The PiS suspects the crash involved foul play, though Polish and Russian investigators found that pilot error, bad weather and poor air-traffic control were to blame.

The atmosphere in the lower house of parliament took a turn for the worse after the PiS leader's outburst, leading the deputy speaker to adjourn the debate until Wednesday morning.

The reform of the Supreme Court, which supervises lower courts, is expected to pass as both houses of parliament are controlled by the PiS.

The bill is the latest of a slew of judicial changes introduced by the governing conservatives that the liberal opposition, some members of the legal profession and critics abroad see as a threat to the separation of powers.

The opposition criticised the tabling of the bill -- which would subjugate the Supreme Court to executive power -- as "the announcement of a coup", while the European Commission said it would discuss the situation on Wednesday.

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

- Thousands protest -

Both houses of parliament last week adopted separate legislation that 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.

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

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

Duda, a lawyer-turned-politician who is closely allied with the governing conservatives, made a surprise compromise bid over the judicial reforms.

He warned that 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.

Those close to Duda expect him to get his way on the KRS bill and also obtain changes to the Supreme Court reform.

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

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