Polish president signs judicial appointments law despite protests

WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish President Andrzej Duda signed into law on Thursday a measure effectively allowing the government to choose the next Supreme Court chief, despite street protests and accusations at home and from the EU that it infringes judicial independence.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda holds news conference about referendum proposition at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, Poland July 20, 2018. Picture taken July 20, 2018. Agencja Gazeta/Adam Stepien via REUTERS

The European Union, human rights groups and the opposition have all objected but the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party says an overhaul is needed to make the courts more efficient and eradicate the residual influence of Poland’s communist past.

This month 22 Supreme Court judges were forced into early retirement but chief Judge Malgorzata Gersdorf has refused to go, saying her constitutional term does not expire until 2020.

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The legal amendment, which was adopted by the upper house of parliament earlier this week, is designed to make it easier to name the new Supreme Court head.

Non-government organisations planned to protest in front of the president’s office in Warsaw on Thursday evening and more demonstrations are expected in other Polish cities.

Since the nationalist PiS won power in 2015, dozens of judges have been effectively dismissed from the Constitutional Tribunal, the National Judiciary Council, which decides judicial appointments, and now the Supreme Court.

New appointments have used procedures that give parliament, where the PiS has a majority, greater say over the courts and the government more control over judges.

The European Commission is running an unprecedented rule of law investigation and has opened several separate legal cases against Poland, the largest former communist EU state, including some over the Supreme Court.

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