Polish senate approves controversial SC overhaul


Poland's Senate approved a contentious law on Saturday that gives politicians substantial influence over the Supreme Court, in defiance of European Union criticism.

Poland's Senate approved the measure early Saturday, capping days of debate and demonstrations.

The U.S. Department of State on Friday urged all sides to "ensure that any judicial reform does not violate Poland's constitution or global legal obligations and respects the principles of judicial independence and separation of powers", and urged dialogue.

Once the Senate approves the bill, it only needs President Duda to sign it into law. He said the Law and Justice party had no right to destroy that achievement.

They want President Andrzej Duda to veto a bill adopted by lawmakers on Thursday that gives the president the power to regulate the work of the Supreme Court and to appoint its judges.

The European Union and many worldwide legal experts say the changes would mark a dramatic reversal for a country hailed as a model of democratic transition over the past quarter century, and move Poland closer toward authoritarianism.

Because of these events, the European Commission was closer than ever before to taking steps to defend the rule of law in Poland.

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Since coming into power in 2015, the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party has sought to tighten government influence over courts, and brought prosecutors and state media under direct government control.

European Union President Donald Tusk has urged Poland's President Andrzej Duda to meet him and discuss the changes the ruling party is making to the nation's judiciary that have drawn condemnation from EU bodies.

In anticipation of the vote, crowds gathered Friday night for yet another protest in front of the Supreme Court building in Warsaw and in some other cities.

Opposition supporters hold a huge Polish national flag during a protest in front of the Supreme Court against a law on court control, in Warsaw, Poland, Friday, July 21, 2017. "We will not be intimidated by Polish and foreign defenders of the interests of the elite", the prime minister said in an address on state television.

But the Czech judges said the bill was an attack on the Polish judiciary's independence.

In Trump's troubling and unusual speech in Poland two weeks ago, the USA president said he was honored "to address the Polish nation that so many generations have dreamed of: a Poland that is safe, strong, and free".

If the PiS government does not back down, Poland could face fines and even a suspension of its voting rights, although other eurosceptic European Union governments, notably Hungary, are likely to veto strict punishments.

"The price for judicial independence, which is a value, was a lack of compulsory reform", Tusk said. In theory, Poland could be deprived of its vote in the EU's council of governments, but such a move would have to be unanimous.