New Polish ruling team slammed for choice of special judges

AP News
Posted: Nov 20, 2015 4:03 PM
New Polish ruling team slammed for choice of special judges

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's new conservative ruling party faced strong criticism Friday for rushing through legislation that allows it to stack the nation's top court with its supporters.

The legislation, passed late Thursday, comes at the end of a politically eventful week in which the ruling Law and Justice party and President Andrzej Duda took decisive steps to strengthen their own power and weaken political rivals from the liberal Civic Platform party who had dominated Poland's government for the past eight years.

"As of today, Poland is no longer a law-abiding democracy," said Andrzej Zoll, a former head of the Constitutional Tribunal who protested the actions regarding the court.

After Duda swore in the government of Prime Minister Beata Szydlo on Monday, he pardoned a government minister who had been convicted of abuse of power, Mariusz Kaminski, before a court could rule on an appeal.

Then, Duda's office issued a report saying furniture and art went missing from presidential buildings under the previous president. The report also listed last-minute steep wage raises and other bonuses for the previous political team and cases of what it called "unjustified spending."

Jacek Michalowski, a close aide to the previous president, said some of the furniture was moved among various government buildings while items in poor condition were destroyed, which, he said, is noted in appropriate documents.

Meanwhile, Szydlo's government ordered the arrest of a former lawmaker who backed the previous government, Jan Bury, over corruption allegations.

Szydlo also moved quickly to accept the resignations of four intelligence services chiefs appointed by the previous government. Changes at the top of the secret services are common with a change of power, but Szydlo's critics said the changes were too hasty, given the security challenges after the Paris attacks last week.

The biggest controversy surrounds legislation affecting the 15-member Constitutional Tribunal, which rules on the constitutionality of laws.

The parliament, dominated by Law and Justice, approved an amendment that voids the appointment of five judges made by the previous government and allows for other judges to be proposed and appointed instead.

Law and Justice party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski claimed the previous government turned the tribunal into a "party-run institution."

"We want to change that in the name of the interests of the majority of Poles," he said.

But the head of a small centrist opposition party, Ryszard Petru, says the new law is unconstitutional and he will appeal the legislation to the same tribunal.

Yet Petru also said the previous government provoked the situation by appointing two of the new judges two months before their terms expire in December. The appointments were made two weeks before the October election that the ruling Civic Platform team lost.

Still, the European Council's Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, tweeted this week that "the amendments altering the composition of the Constitutional Court currently rushed through Polish Parliament undermine rule of law and should be withdrawn."


This story has been corrected to show that there are 15 judges in the Constitutional Tribunal, not 12.