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President signs Poland's constitutional court bill

December 28, 2015

The amendment passed by Poland’s senate earlier this month is expected to curb the powers of the top judicial body. Andrzej Duda's consent comes despite an EU demand to postpone the introduction of the new law.

Polish President Andrzej Duda speaks at an event
Image: DW/R. Romaniec

Poland's President Andrzej Duda gave his nod to the controversial constitutional court amendment bill, a move that the activists fear would dilute the powers of the top court.

Duda, a close ally of the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party which had drafted the bill, signed it into law despite calls from the European Commission to delay the approval until the impact of the changes were fully assessed.

The new law comes into effect just days after the bill was adopted by the parliament, dominated by the conservative PiS party since October elections. Duda's nod follows the controversial appointment of five new judges to the 15-member constitutional court that pushed Poland into a political crisis and brought thousands of protestors onto the streets.

Thousands of people converged on streets to protest
Thousands of people converged on streets to protest moves by the new right-wing government to curb the powers of the top court.Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Keplicz

The new law raises the number of judges required to pass judgments. The court must now approve rulings with two-thirds majority instead of simple majority as currently required.

One provision of the new law requires at least 13 of 15 judges to rule on any case, while the current practice allows a smaller number of judges to review cases. The new law also requires a three- to six-month waiting period between the time a request for a ruling is made and a verdict, compared with current two weeks.

The opposition claims that the amendments could paralyze the court's functioning and make it difficult for the politicians to challenge the laws passed by the ruling party.

The PiS has rejected the criticism, saying opponents are using the excuse of democracy to protect their vested interests. The right-wing party said the step was necessary for the court to properly reflect the results of the election. The PiS won less than 40 percent of the vote in October's vote, but under Poland's first-past-the-post electoral system, that was enough to claim a clear majority of seats in parliament.

ap/msh (Reuters, AFP)