Poland lower house approves controversial judges law

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Polish protesters against a controversial new judicial reform law hold copies of the constitution and EU flags in WarsawImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Thousands have demonstrated against the controversial reforms, with some brandishing EU flags and copies of Poland's constitution

Poland has approved a controversial law which makes it easier to dismiss judges critical of the governing party's judicial reforms.

The legislation passed by 233 votes to 205 in the lower house of parliament in Warsaw on Friday.

It came just hours after the European Commission urged Poland to reconsider the proposed changes.

Demonstrators rallied in their thousands across Poland earlier this month to protest against the law.

On Wednesday, the country's Supreme Court warned that Poland could be forced to leave the EU over its reforms.

The law now goes to the Senate after passing on Friday. The upper chamber cannot block the legislation, though it can delay it.

Under the legislation, championed by the socially conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party government, judges can be punished for engaging in "political activity".

Any judge that questions the legitimacy of other judges nominated by the National Council of the Judiciary might be handed a fine, have their salaries cut, or in some cases be dismissed.

The PiS changed the law in 2018 allowing the lower house of parliament - which it controls - to choose the members of that council.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Demonstrators have called for a judge who was suspended for questioning another judge's independence to be reinstated

PiS alleges that Poland needs the reforms to tackle corruption and make the judicial system more efficient, arguing it is still haunted by the communist era. The party also insists that other EU countries allow politicians to take part in selecting judges.

But critics fear it has curtailed the independence of the judiciary in Poland. The EU has accused the party of politicising the judiciary since it came to power in 2015.

Earlier on Friday, European Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova wrote to Poland's president, prime minister and parliamentary speakers, calling on them to consult legal experts before proceeding with the law change, and asking them not to break EU legal norms.

Bill sails through stormy session

By Adam Easton, BBC correspondent in Warsaw

The governing party fast-tracked the bill in a little over 24 hours during an often stormy parliamentary session.

Opposition MPs cried out "Shame!" as Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro called judges a privileged caste who ignored citizens' interests.

The minister said judges could not have the right to question the status of hundreds of newly appointed judges selected by a council which is now controlled by the governing party.

Some judges have already done so after Poland's Supreme Court ruled the council was no longer an independent body.