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Polish president proposes abolishing disputed court chamber

February 3, 2022 GMT

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish President Andrzej Duda said Thursday he is sending to parliament for approval a draft law that would abolish a top court’s disciplinary chamber in order to end a bitter dispute with the European Union.

“We don’t need this dispute,” Duda said, stressing that Poland is going through a difficult time at home and internationally, with mounting security tensions in the region.

Duda said the proposal is to “give Poland’s government a tool for ending the dispute with the European Commission,” the bloc’s executive arm, and unblocking massive EU pandemic recovery funds for Poland.

The right-wing government has repeatedly clashed with the EU, which says the changes it it has made to Poland’s justice system and the judiciary, putting them under political control, undermine the principles of democracy and the rule of law.

Duda proposed amending the law on the Supreme Court and closing the court’s controversial chamber, where most judges were appointed with the government’s backing. It would be replaced with a new, smaller, 11-member body tasked with professional vetting of judges, called the Professional Responsibility Chamber.

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He said the current chamber is working in a “absolutely irregular way.”

The court’s president — appointed in 2020 with the government’s backing — Malgorzata Manowska, said she hopes that ending the conflict would allow Poland’s justice system and the court “work more easily and more efficiently.”

Duda is politically aligned with Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, but it was unclear whether the government would agree to his proposal, which comes as the Justice Ministry is working on new regulations.

Party spokeswoman Anita Czerwinska said Duda’s proposal was met with “respect,” but stressed that government’s work on its own proposal, intended to “stabilize Poland’s justice system,” was well advanced.

The European Court of Justice said last year that the Disciplinary Chamber of Poland’s Supreme Court existed in violation of EU laws, ordered its temporary suspension pending a verdict. It fined Poland 1 million euros for each day the chamber continues to operate. The chamber has suspended some judges critical of the right-wing government and of the moves it has taken, since winning power in 2015, to acquire political control of Poland’s judiciary.

The government, which shaped the chamber, refuses to comply or pay and says the EU has no say on the justice systems of its 27 members.

The EU is considering freezing disbursement of Poland’s share of pandemic relief money because of the judicial dispute.

Duda urged that the draft law should proceed through parliament fast. It needs to get approval from both chambers of parliament and from the government before he can sign it into law.