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Opposition asks Polish government to drop judiciary change

Associated Press logo Associated Press 5/04/2017

WARSAW, Poland — Poland's opposition called on the government Wednesday to abandon its plan to reorganize a top judicial body, contending that it would violate the constitution and bring judges under political influence.

It is yet another case in which Poland's populist government is being criticized as trying to undermine democratic principles. The European Union is highly critical of steps the ruling Law and Justice government had taken previously to control a top court, the Constitutional Tribunal.

The new plan to reorganize the National Council of the Judiciary was taken up by Poland's lawmakers on Wednesday, and was expected to be approved, given the ruling party's majority in parliament. The vote was expected on Friday.

The plan calls for the parliament to appoint 15 of the council's 25 judges and for the current members, all appointed by judges, to be dismissed.

The council's tasks include drawing up and enforcing ethical guidelines for judges, reviewing judicial candidates and seeking opinions on new rules and regulations to ensure they are constitutional.

Opposition lawmaker Krzysztof Brejza said the changes are "typical of dictatorships" and violate the separation of political power from the judiciary. He called on the lawmakers to read critical opinions about the plan before starting a debate. Criticism is also coming from parliament experts, who say the change goes against the constitution.

Many judges, politicians and ordinary people in Poland agree that judiciary procedures need to be simplified in order to speed up handling of cases, but critics say the government plan is going in the wrong direction.

The government argues that the council hampers the necessary reform of the judiciary.

"This is another one of the big reforms that the government has promised. We will not step back there," Prime Minister Beata Szydlo has said.

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This story has been corrected to show the lawmaker's name is Brejza, not Breeze.

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