Poland's Senate approves controversial Supreme Court bill

Poland's Senate approves controversial Supreme Court bill

Poland's senate approved a controversial reform of the Supreme Court early today, despite warnings from the European Union, appeals from Washington and massive street protests against the measure.

To become law, the bill must be signed by President Andrzej Duda.

The opposition and protesters are all calling on Duda to veto the reform, as well as two other measures recently adopted which they say increase the control of the executive branch of government over the judiciary.

People protest against the proposed judicial legislation in Warsaw on July 20.

Senior Czech judges denounced a judicial overhaul in Poland as an attack on the rule of law on Friday, saying they could no longer stay silent over the changes in their neighbor. The head of state has 21 days to sign the document, veto it, or, if in doubt, submit it to the constitutional court. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the ruling Law & Justice party that's been criticized by the European Union for rolling back democratic norms, says he won't back down.

The changes to the judiciary, if approved by the president, are set to consolidate even more power in the hands of PiS, which took office with a slight parliamentary majority in late 2015.

Opponents of the Polish government are protesting in front of the parliament building in Warsaw after the adoption of a bill that gives the president control over the Supreme Court instead of judges. The Supreme Court's tasks include validating elections.

The European Commission has threatened to sanction Warsaw should the bill become law.

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Beata Szydlo said Thursday night that the legislation was a result of public criticism of the legal system's inefficiency and blamed the public outcry it has triggered on the "frustration" of the opposition.

But the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party has said sweeping changes are needed to reform an inefficient and sometimes corrupt judicial system.

Critics at home and overseas say the legislation is part of a drift towards authoritarianism by the government, which espouses nationalist rhetoric coupled with left-leaning economic policy. The lower house of Parliament gave its approval earlier this week.

Of course, it could be that all the fearsome pronouncements by Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans and EU Council President Donald Tusk - a bitter political rival of Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski - are merely a melange of hot air and blether.

"Our generation succeeded in putting Poland back on track and ensuring the separation of powers", the former president said in the northern city of Gdansk.

Proposed by the populist party, it gives politicians control over Poland's Supreme Court, and critics say it kills judicial independence.

The PiS has offered some concessions on demand from the president, but has presented criticism from overseas as unacceptable meddling in the domestic affairs of the country, which overthrew communism in 1989 and joined the European Union in 2004.

Public protests are planned for Thursday evening.

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