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Poles protest against judicial reform
Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna © Aargambit

Poles protest against judicial reform

17/07/17Government

Thousands have rallied in Warsaw, Poland, in protest against the ruling party’s judicial reforms, which the opposition says would erode the judges’ independence and undermine democracy.

Protesters say the bill, passed by the Senate on 15 July, would give MPs and the justice minister the authority to appoint judges without consulting judicial circles.

The government says the move is required because the judiciary is corrupt and serves only the interests of elites.

The bill must still be signed by President Andrzej Duda in order to become law. He has given no indication that he plans to reject it.

Since it came to power in 2015, the government of the populist Law and Justice Party (PiS), has passed a series of controversial reforms, triggering mass protests.

Opposition supporters and human rights activists gathered in Warsaw under Polish and EU flags in a demonstration which continued after dark.

Police say around 4,500 people turned up to the protests while another estimate puts the number closer to 10,000. Smaller rallies were held in Kraków, Katowice and elsewhere.

Opposition leaders, including former Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna of Civic Platform and Ryszard Petru of the Modern Party, took to the stage in Warsaw.

“Today we know that a great fight has begun and we know we must be together, we know we must fight against them together,” Schetyna told the crowd.

The opposition fear the law will give parliament – dominated by PiS lawmakers – indirect control over judicial appointments, violating the constitutional separation of powers.

Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said the current system of appointing judges was undemocratic.

“We want to end corporatism and introduce the oxygen of democracy there,” he said. “Because Poland is a democracy based on the rule of law. This is not court-ocracy.”

The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, Nils Muiznieks, also said the reforms were a “major setback for judicial independence”.