Defiant Poland poised to ratify Supreme Court overhaul



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. Critics say the bill kills judicial independence and puts judges under political control.

After the vote, protesters gathered in front of parliament shouting "Shame!" The bill on the Supreme Court has drawn condemnation from the European Union and has led to street protests in Warsaw.

The opposition warned that the Senate's decision, which followed a stormy debate in both houses of parliament, undermined judicial independence and accused Poland's ruling conservatives of trying to stack courts with its own candidates. Some people held up placards with the word "Constitution" - a reference to accusations the governing party is destroying Poland's constitutional order.

Defying protests, the ruling party rushed the legislation through parliament in just 10 days.

"This is a blatant attack by Poland's government on the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law", Lydia Gall of Human Rights Watch said in a statement, adding that the "deeply flawed" bill targeting Supreme Court judges "runs counter to European Union and Council of Europe standards".

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The 73-year-old Walesa recalled the democratic changes he helped usher in more than 25 years ago, and said the separation of powers into three branches was the most important achievement of his Solidarity movement.

Proposed by the ruling populist Law and Justice party it gives the nation's president the power to influence the court's work and to appoint its judges.

Walesa told the young people in the crowd: "You must use all means to take back what we achieved for you".

Fellow central European power Hungary has stood by Poland's rulers, saying the EU should not overstep its authority.

Polish lawmakers have voted to approve a contentious law that gives control of the top court to politicians instead of judges. 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.

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"While keeping in mind and respecting the sovereignty of the Polish state, we cannot stay silent about the steps that threaten its very source, which is the untouchable values of European civilization, humanism and fundamental rights and freedoms", their statement said.

Critics at home and overseas say the legislation is part of a drift towards authoritarianism by the government, which espouses nationalist rhetoric coupled with left-leaning economic policy.

Poland's Senate approved the legislation early on July 22.

A new round of nationwide protests is expected Saturday across Poland that will urge Duda not to sign the legislation into law.

In the early hours of Saturday senators of the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party approved a bill that would end all the terms of Supreme Court justices except those hand-picked by the justice minister.

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