Poland: Street protests and EU warnings over attempt to bring judiciary under political control


Poland  
Street protests and EU warnings over attempt to bring judiciary under political control
20.7.17
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The latest set of measures going through the Polish legislature that would undermine the independence of the judiciary and seperation of powers have led to protests across Poland and warnings from the EU that it will invoke the 'Article 7' procedure, which could ultimately see Polish voting rights in the Council suspended.

See: In Poland, Effort To Take Control Of The Courts Inspires Protests (NPR, link):

"As Poland's ruling party moves to take control of the country's high court, protesters are taking to the streets and European Union officials are warning of the possibility of sanctions.

There is fear, both within and outside of Poland, that a proposed measure would upend an already-weakened system of checks and balances."

What is under discussion? See: Poland's 'July coup' and what it means for the judiciary (EUobserver, link)

"Three pieces of legislation put Poland's constitutional order at stake.

The first two are on the National Council of the Judiciary of Poland (NCJ), and were already voted on Friday (14 July). They now await the approval of Poland's president, Andrzej Duda, who has since proposed amendments before agreeing to sign.

The last one concerns the Supreme Court (SC), which was directed to the parliamentary committees for further work, but may still be voted on Wednesday or Thursday (19-20 July).

"These are fundamental reforms that deeply transform our political system. The process lacks transparency, the drafts were not properly opened to opinions before proceeding. They violate the constitution in number of ways," Ewa Letowska, a former Supreme Court judge, told EUobserver."

The Commission has - again - threatened to take further steps against the Polish government: European Commission ‘very close’ to triggering Article 7 on Poland (Politico, link):

"The European Commission is “very close” to triggering the EU’s Article 7 procedure against Poland — a move that can lead to the suspension of a member country’s voting rights, Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said Wednesday.

The Commission will also prepare to start infringement proceedings against Warsaw for breaching EU law over its plans to bring the judiciary under government control, Timmermans told reporters."

In respones: Poland calls Brussels warning over court reforms 'premature' (Radio Poland, link):

"The Polish foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that the commission was “premature” because the “process to reform the Polish judiciary has only just begun”, adding that it was ready to keep the commission up to date as the legislative process continued."

Nils Muižniek, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, has condemned the proposals: Poland has a duty to preserve judicial independence(OpenDemocracy, link):

"These amendments represent the latest of a series of measures which have been undermining the legitimacy and independence of the judiciary in recent months. Particularly illustrative of the negative consequences of such measures is the creeping politicisation of the Constitutional Tribunal whose composition and rules of procedure have been hastily amended several times."

The head of the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, which deals with rule of law issues, has also commented: Poland - Statement by the Venice Commission's President Gianni Buquicchio (Council of Europe, link)

"Any legislation arbitrarily terminating the term of office of judges can only be regarded as a flagrant violation of the European constitutional heritage."

Ongoing responses from civil society organisations are being recorded by the organisation Obserwatorium demokracji. See: Constitutional Tribunal and the judiciary (link)

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