Polish parliament OKs law allowing gov’t to punish judges

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Judges from Italy, the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe, many wearing their professional gowns, take part in a march in support of judicial independence in Warsaw, Poland, on Saturday Jan. 11, 2020. The judges marched silently in Warsaw in a show of solidarity with Polish peers who are protesting a bill that would allow the government to fire judges who issue rulings officials don’t like. (AP Photo/Vanessa Gera)

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WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s lawmakers gave their final approval Thursday to legislation that will allow politicians to fire judges who criticize their decisions, a change that European legal experts warn will undermine judicial independence.

The legislation passed in the lower house of parliament, the Sejm. It goes next to President Andrzej Duda, who has expressed his support for the legislation and is expected to sign it into law.

Proposed by Poland’s right-wing ruling party, which seeks more control over the judiciary, the law has been condemned by the European Union, the United Nations and other international bodies, as well as by Polish legal experts and Poland’s opposition.

They say it violates European Union principles and the democratic separation of powers.

Further aggravating the conflict, Poland’s Justice Ministry said Thursday that it would not recognize a resolution by the Supreme Court which said earlier in the day that some of its newest judges were unlawfully appointed, since they were designated by a new judicial body that is considered to be politically controlled by the ruling Law and Justice party.

The bill about firing judges was rejected by the Senate last week. The lower house of Poland’s parliament, which is controlled by the ruling Law and Justice party, as expected, gave its final approval in Thursday’s vote. The party has argued the law is needed to prevent “anarchy” among judges, some of whom are critical of the party’s policies.

The law would prohibit judges from engaging in any public activities that could be seen as politically motivated. It curbs the right of judges to form independent judicial bodies and requires them to declare all group affiliations, including any political affiliation from Poland’s pre-1989 communist era.

The legislation also bans judges from evaluating or criticizing new judicial appointments or powers of state authorities. The punishment for non-compliance ranges from fines to dismissal.

The law is part of changes the ruling party has made to the judiciary since it came to power in 2015. The Law and Justice government argues the judicial system needs to be made more efficient.

Critics agree improvement is needed but say the changes amount to putting judges under political control.

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