Poles protest as Senate mulls changes to the judiciary

July 24, 2018
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People attend a protest organized by opponents of the judicial reform, in front of the Polish Senate headquarters in Warsaw, Poland, Tuesday, July 24, 2018.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Hundreds of government opponents protested in Poland on Tuesday as senators were debating legislation that would make it easier for the ruling party to appoint the president and members of the Supreme Court and influence judges.

Approved by the lower house last week, the legislation needs approval from the Senate, which is dominated by the right-wing ruling party and expected to back the bill, as well as from President Andrzej Duda, who hails from the party.

It is one of the final steps in the ruling party’s overhaul of the judiciary which, critics say, is putting the justice system under the party’s control. European Union leaders say it threatens Poland’s rule of law and have triggered sanctioning procedures.

The Law and Justice party insists it is making the justice system more efficient and removing communist-era judges to let in fresh blood. But new appointments made so far largely are of party backers.

In the latest controversy, the government lowered retirement age for Supreme Court judges to 65 from 70, forcing many of them out, and cutting short the constitutionally-guaranteed term of the chief justice. The latest legislation is to facilitate the government’s efforts to replace the chief justice.

Waving national and EU flags protesters in Warsaw, Wroclaw and in some other cities chanted “We will defend democracy” and “Free courts” against the changes.

In a separate protest, pro-democracy activists staged an event in Warsaw that portrayed ruling party leaders as destroyers of the judicial authorities.

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