Polish senators approve legal changes amid protests

Bulgaria Thousands Protest in Poland Against Court Reorganizations

Bulgaria Thousands Protest in Poland Against Court Reorganizations

Senator Aleksander Bobko, of the right-wing PiS party, said that ending the term of the first Supreme Court president was an obvious violation of the constitution.

Meanwhile, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban - who has also locked horns with Brussels over a perceived disrespect for democratic freedom - pledged support for Poland's senate Saturday as the European Union threatens Warsaw with sanctions.

Polish senators were expected to pass a bill last night allowing parliament to appoint supreme court judges, setting the stage for a confrontation with the European Union that could lead to the withdrawal of Poland's voting rights.

Duda now has 21 days to sign the legislation into law.

Opponents say it would destroy judicial independence and violate the rule of law.

The ruling Law and Justice party defends the changes as reforms to a justice system that party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski says was never purged of former communists after that system collapsed in 1989. Now the judges' fate is squarely in the hands of President Andrzej Duda - normally an ally of the party - but now an unknown.

"Today, where the government has begun to make the activities of Poland's supreme court as well as those of the council managing the courts subject to its own, it is clear that we're looking at a general attempt to limit the independence of Poland's judiciary as a whole", Pikamäe said.

The foreign ministry of Poland - a country that overthrew communism in 1989 and was later seen by many as a model young democracy - said on Saturday it was "surprised" that the United States has made a decision to voice concerns.

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Polish democracy icon and ex-President Lech Walesa addresses a large crowd of anti-government protesters in Gdansk, Poland, Saturday, July 22, 2017.

Supreme Court chief Malgorzata Gersdorf says, on average, the court takes seven months to rule on a case — but she calls that a good result, even by European standards, given that the court handles the most hard and complicated matters. He also condemned the speed with which the bill was passed, saying it was done without proper public consultation.

Polish lawmakers voted Thursday to approve a contentious bill that gives control of the top court to politicians instead of judges. Critics concede that the judiciary needs reform, but that the proposed changes are going in the wrong direction.

The legislation calls for firing current Supreme Court judges, except those approved by the president, and it gives the president power to regulate the courts.

They have started kicking and hitting the metal barriers that separate them from the parliament grounds.

The second bill was approved by the lower chamber of Parliament Thursday-triggering the pro-democracy protests-but still must be approved by the upper house, then signed by Duda, to take effect.

Since Thursday, tens of thousands have protested in Warsaw, Poznan, Krakow and other Polish cities in one of the biggest demonstrations since the 2015 election.

"We are taking Poland in the right direction", Mazurek said.

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