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Poland's top court deals setback to ruling party over judge appointments

Poland's top court has ruled the new conservative government's appointment of judges under a new law is unconstitutional. Opponents have accused the new PiS government of an illegal power grab.

Poland's Constitutional Court found on Wednesday key provisions of a law passed last month by

the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party

illegal, in the latest twist in a brewing constitutional crisis.

The PiS passed the legislation in November to enable it to elect five new judges to the 15-member constitutional court, a move that would allow the party to implement key parts of its program.

The country's highest court found that three of the five appointments were illegal, as were several amendments to the new law that would have allowed PiS to appoint a new court president.

The position is key because it determines what judges review certain cases.

The crisis began in October when the Civic Platform party appointed five judges before losing power to PiS in elections. Three of those appointments were deemed valid by the court.

But PiS then passed legislation last month making the Civic Platform nominations invalid and appointed its own five judges.

Despite a court ruling last week ordering the government to swear in the three approved judges, PiS-supported President Andrzej Duda ignored the court and swore in the PiS appointed judges.

Watch video 01:49

Swing to the right in Poland

Opponents have accused the PiS of a power grab and violating the constitution, while

the Council of Europe said the legal amendments undermine the rule of law.

The PiS has an ambitious agenda to cut taxes for small and medium-sized businesses, lower the pension age after Civic Platform raised it, increase family benefits, lower taxes on families, and increase taxes on banks and large foreign-owned supermarkets.

It would be easier for the government to push its agenda by stocking the court with PiS loyalists and choosing the president of the court.

It was not immediately clear what implication the court ruling would have, but Duda said last week he would try to reform the court and how judges were elected.

Since coming to power there has been

mounting concern among the opposition that the Euroskeptic PiS could try stretch the limits of its power.

cw/bw (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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