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Poland's Duda sends new judicial reform law for court review

February 11, 2023

Poland hopes to unblock billions from the EU pandemic recovery funds with its new law on judiciary. While ruling lawmakers endorsed the changes, the fight is not yet done.

Polish President Andrzej Duda
Polish President Andrzej Duda has previously voiced reservations about the new judicial accountability lawImage: Ints Kalnins/REUTERS

Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro on Saturday praised President Andrzej Duda's decision to send a new law on judicial accountability for review in the Constitutional Court.

Lawmakers at the powerful lower house of parliament, or Sejm, approved the bill earlier this week. The parliament is narrowly controlled by the ruling Law and Justice Party and its junior partners.

The legal changes were crafted to unlock coronavirus recovery funds that have been held up by the EU. Brussels has repeatedly criticized Poland's right-wing government, insisting that Warsaw is  undermining the bloc's rule of law principles and judiciary independence.

The EU Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, reacted on Twitter saying: "I take note of the adoption by the Sejm of the new law on the judiciary."

In a televised address on Friday, President Duda said he needed to make sure the new law was in agreement with the Polish constitution before he approved it.

Why is the new law important?

Since taking power in 2015, Duda's Law and Justice Party has overhauled Poland's justice system and given the ruling party power over the courts and appointment of judges. 

The controversial judicial reform law was widely condemned by EU leaders and in 2021, the European Court of Justice ruled that Poland violated European law.

The EU has called for Poland to make essential changes to its judicial reform law before it can receive €35 billion ($37 billion) of pandemic recovery funds.

The upcoming judicial accountability law is aimed at doing that, though there's no response from the EU on whether the amendments meet its expectations. Some previous changes proposed by Poland did not go far enough for the EU.

Will Poland receive EU cash? 

"It is good that [Duda] decided … to send the law to the Constitutional Court," rather than signing it, Justice Minister Ziobro said on Saturday.

Ziobro's conservative United Poland party, which is a junior partner in coalition with the ruling Law and Justice, had requested an outright veto of the law.

But Ziobro said that the decision to appeal for constitutional review was "a better decision than signing the law, which wouldn't have solved anything."

"We wouldn't receive funds from the national recovery plan (KPO)," he said, referring to an EU fund designed to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The law would "worsen the disorganization, chaos and rebellion in the Polish judiciary," he claimed.

The minister fired two regional court heads in 2021, which was eventually condemned in a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling.

Ziobro said that officials are trying to force a "change in government in Poland using the European Commission."

"It is clear from the statements of European Union politicians that further demands would be made," he said. "A politics of concessions is bad politics. A politics of complying with blackmail leads to an escalation of the blackmail."

rm, sdi/dj (dpa, AP)