Poland: Independence of judiciary under threat as parliament votes on amended laws

Large protests are expected throughout Poland on Friday as MPs vote on two amendments that threaten the independence of the country’s judiciary. Amnesty International will have spokespeople on the ground and available for interview.

“If these laws are adopted as currently proposed, it would be a heavy blow to the rule of law and human rights protection in Poland. The right to a fair trial and other human rights would be at grave risk,” said Barbora Černušáková, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Poland.

The amendments to the Law on the National Council of the Judiciary and the Supreme Court sparked widespread protests when they were first issued in July, prompting thousands to take to the streets in more than 50 cities.

Police responded with heavy-handed security measures, and dozens of protesters currently face criminal proceedings.

The President Andrzej Duda vetoed the amendments in July but subsequently redrafted and submitted them to parliament in September. Despite some changes, concerns remain that the amendments will put the judiciary under government control.

Background

The proposed amendment to the Supreme Court lowers the retirement age of judges sitting on the court from 70 to 65 years. Those who are over 65 - the majority of current judges – would be required to retire or submit to a vetting process by the President.

This is effectively a way for the government to change the entire make-up of the court and to exert political influence over it.

The other amendment on the National Council of the Judiciary, until now a self-regulating body of judges, would give parliament the power to elect the judges sitting on the Council.

In response to the proposed reforms, 28 organizations, including Amnesty International, have called on MPs and the President not to support amendments that would undermine the independence of the judiciary.