Hundreds of government opponents protest in front of the parliament building in Warsaw, on July 16, 2017 against new legislation that reorganizes Poland’s judiciary and puts judges under political influence. JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP
Waving Polish and EU flags and chanting democracy slogans, several thousand people rallied in Warsaw on Sunday to protest against controversial new court reforms they see as a threat to judicial independence.
Police said around 4,500 people attended the demonstration in front of the Polish parliament, which this week passed legislation that critics say gives the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party power over the courts.
Poles chanted “we will defend democracy” at the demonstration organised by the KOD pro-democracy movement, which is critical of the governing conservatives’ policies on courts as well as other areas such as media and education.
“This whole set of (judicial) bills is a scandal,” said protester Agnieszka Janczarska, a 39-year-old lawyer in Warsaw.
“It’s a destruction of the fundamental principles of a democratic state, namely the separation of powers,” she told AFP.
The two main opposition leaders, Grzegorz Schetyna from Civic Platform (PO) and Ryszard Petru from the Modern party, were at the rally and said they would join forces to fight against the reforms.
Earlier this week Poland’s parliament adopted a bill that gives the minister of justice the power to name the chief justices of the EU member’s common courts.
Lawmakers also passed a second bill that states from now on the parliament — which is controlled by the conservative PiS party — will choose the members of the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), whose role is to protect the independence of courts.
The PiS also tabled a separate bill in parliament on Thursday that would subjugate the Supreme Court — which supervises lower courts — to executive power, in a move the opposition slammed as “the announcement of a coup”.
Under the proposed bill, the current Supreme Court justices will be forced to retire, with the exception of those named by the justice minister, who would also be responsible for selecting candidates to succeed the retired judges.
The PiS-led government has already run afoul of the European Commission and critics at home for implementing reforms of the Constitutional Court, whose main role is to check that laws comply with the constitution.