WARSAW (Reuters) - The leader of Poland's ruling conservatives said an opinion from a panel of the Council of Europe was "legally absurd" and called the panel "discredited", after it said changes to the country's top court had undermined the rule of law.
Though not a member of government, Jaroslaw Kaczynski is widely seen as Poland's main decision-maker, and his comments signal that his party is unlikely to back down on the court reforms.
Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has passed a bill that increases the number of judges needed to make rulings and changes the order in which cases are heard. It has also overruled court appointments made by the previous government.
Those changes have put Warsaw on a collision course with the European Union. If the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, decides Poland's new rules breach EU standards, Poland could lose its EU voting rights.
The commission is expected to make its decision based largely the recommendations by the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe human rights panel. The recommendations are due on March 11-12.
Critics say the changes, which prompted Brussels to launch the rule of law procedure for the first time in its history, have paralyzed the court's work, making it difficult for judges to review, let alone challenge the government's legislation.
Poland asked the Venice Commission to comment on the changes. A draft opinion, which was leaked to the media last week, said that the changes posed a threat to the rule of law in Poland.
Commenting on the draft opinion for Polskie Radio Bialystok late on Thursday, Kaczynski appeared defiant, saying that Venice Commission "discredited itself" through the leak, and that its opinion would not be binding in any case.
"Remember, these are opinions that are advisory in nature, or even less than advisory, and they don't bind us at all," Kaczynski said. "The content of this draft, because so far it's only a draft, but if taken seriously, it is simply legally absurd."
(Reporting by Wiktor Szary, editing by Larry King)