Thousands of Poles Take To Streets To Protest Judicial Reforms

Cesar Mills
July 17, 2017

Lawmakers from the main parliamentary party, Civic Platform (PO) also attended, as did the smaller opposition centrist party, Modern and representatives of left-wing groups.

Police estimated the crowd at about 4,500, a number far lower than city hall estimates, which put the number above 10,000.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland's most powerful politician and leader of the Law and Justice party, contends that the courts are rooted in the communist era and are working to protect those who served the previous system.

Chanting "we will defend democracy" and waving European Union and Polish flags, around 4,500 protesters attended demonstrations in the Polish capital, according to police.

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Late on Friday the country's parliament, where the Law and Justice (PiS) party has a majority, passed a bill giving parliament a greater say in appointing judges, which critics say violates the constitutional separation of powers.

A Polish opposition party said Saturday it had urged leaders of worldwide organizations to send observers to parliament to oversee voting on a law that would force the entire Supreme Court into retirement and impose ministerial control over the selection of judges.

The letter was published after Poland's Senate, in the early hours of Saturday morning, approved two other laws - one of which disbands an independent body that nominates judges and the other of which gives the justice minister the right to dismiss the presidents of regional and appeal courts. He insisted the changes were in the public interest and fulfilled the party's election campaign promises. Critics of the changes argue the laws will erode the independence of judges and undermine Poland's democracy. Both laws were passed by the lower house of parliament (the Sejm) on Wednesday. Current judges of the court could be retired under a PiS-backed bill. PiS also argues the judiciary was not purged after the fall of communism, suggesting the ideology affects the branch.

Many argue the party is deliberately attempting to hobble the work of the judiciary and in the meantime run through a series of reforms that strengthen its hold on power, strip away remaining checks and balances - while also simultaneously reorienting the civil service, media, army and education systems.

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