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Poland's Senate approves Supreme Court changes

Posted Jul 25, 2018 by AFP
Poland's Senate approved early Wednesday a controversial bill to reform the Supreme Court in a move that critics say puts the judicial system under government control and is a threat to the country's democracy.
Protesters demonstrated against the judicial reform in front of the Senate in Warsaw
Protesters demonstrated against the judicial reform in front of the Senate in Warsaw
Wojtek RADWANSKI, AFP

Poland's Senate approved early Wednesday a controversial bill to reform the Supreme Court in a move that critics say puts the judicial system under government control and is a threat to the country's democracy.

The changes, backed by 60 senators with 30 against and one abstention, will make it easier to replace Supreme Court Chief Justice Malgorzata Gersdorf, who refused to step down earlier this month.

As the bill was debated in the Senate in Warsaw, cries from hundreds of demonstrators outside of "Shame!" and "Senator, do not sign!" could be heard inside the chamber.

The new law, which has already been approved by the lower house of parliament, is part of a raft of controversial judicial reforms by the government to replace scores of judges all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Opposition senator Aleksander Pociej from the liberal Civic Platform (PO) party described the bill as "an assault" on the court.

The opposition, democracy watchdogs and the European Union have warned the changes undermine judicial independence, the rule of law and ultimately democracy.

But the government insists the proposals tackle corruption and overhaul a judicial system still haunted by Poland's communist era.

The proposals still need to be signed by President Andrzej Duda, an ally of the ruling rightwing Law and Justice party (PiS), to become law.

The new legislation comes after weeks of turmoil over the forced early retirement of Supreme Court judges under a law lowering their pension age from 70 to 65.