Polish president sees flaws in contentious law on top court

Poland's upper house of parliament has approved a contentious bill that gives politicians substantial influence over the Supreme Court.

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. After the vote, protesters gathered in front of parliament shouting "Shame!"

Opponents say it would destroy judicial independence and violate the rule of law.

While noting that Poland was a close ally of Washington, the US State Department said America was concerned by the legislation, according to a statement.

Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party says the changes are needed to make courts more accountable and to ensure state institutions serve all Poles, not just the "elites" it says are the support base for the centrist opposition.

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PiS has offered no concessions, instead presenting the European Union criticism as unacceptable foreign meddling in the domestic affairs of the country, which overthrew communism in 1989 and joined the European Union in 2004.

Party spokeswoman, Beata Mazurek, said Thursday that people in small towns across the country have a sense the justice system is not on their side and the party wants to change that.

Poland's Senate approved the measure early Saturday, capping days of debate and demonstrations.

Proposed by the populist ruling party, it gives the justice minister and the president the power to appoint and assess Supreme Court judges.

Lapinski said that Duda sees inconsistency between two articles regarding the appointment of the court's head. He is expected to sign the legislation. "We urge all sides to ensure that any judicial reform does not violate Poland's constitution or worldwide legal obligations and respects the principles of judicial independence and separation of powers", it said in a statement.

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Duda has so far not accepted an invitation for talks on the issue from European Council President Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister.

Tusk said in a statement that the PiS moves on courts were backwards, went "against European standards and values", harmed Poland's reputation and risked marginalising the country.

Senior Czech judges denounced the judicial overhaul in Poland as an attack on the rule of law on Friday.

It is unlikely that the European Union would be able to remove Poland's voting rights over its judicial reforms, for instance, because Hungary would be able to veto such a motion and has indicated its willingness to do so.

"We urge all sides to ensure that any judicial reform does not violate Poland's constitution or worldwide legal obligations and respects the principles of judicial independence and separation of powers", it said in a statement. In theory, Poland could be deprived of its vote in the EU's council of governments, but such a move would have to be unanimous.

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