Polish senators approve legal changes amid protests

Protests

The new legislation gives the nationalist ruling party extensive control over the nation's court system, a move which critics say brings into question the country's judicial independence.

To become law, the proposed bill has to be signed by President Andrzej Duda, an ally of the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party.

The reform bill will empower parliament and the justice minister to appoint judges to the Supreme Court.The opposition, critics in Brussels and judges' groups in Poland say the legislation is a new step by the Polish government towards authoritarianism.

Last week, both houses of parliament adopted two other contested pieces of judicial legislation, including a bill stating that the justice minister will name the chief justices of Poland's common courts.

Leader of Law and Justice (PiS) party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, center, attends a debate before a vote on the bill calling for an overhaul of the Supreme Court.

Tens of thousands poured into the streets in Poland Thursday night, condemning proposed laws that would dramatically weaken the nation's judicial system, just two weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump visited the country and praised its commitment to freedom and democracy, speaking to "an audience of close to 15,000 enthusiastic, flag-waving Poles-many of them bused in by Poland's ruling right-wing" party.

The upper house was debating a draft law to dismiss supreme court judges and let the president replace them with his appointees.

Saying that the laws "would increase the systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland", the Commission urged Poland's leaders to hold off on making any changes and return to talks with the European Union that have been going on since January of 2016.

Poles took to the streets for another protest with parliament set to defy global allies and mass opposition protests by pressing ahead with legislation giving the government more sway over the judiciary. Parliament has already passed bills this month giving politicians control over lower courts and the National Judicial Council. The Supreme Court's tasks include validating elections.

The European Commission has warned it could strip Poland of its European Union voting rights over the changes the government is making to the judiciary.

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.

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.

"Our generation succeeded in putting Poland back on track and ensuring the separation of powers", the former president said in the northern city of Gdansk. It calls for the dismissal of the court's current judges, except those chosen by the president.

Public protests are planned for Thursday evening.

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