Poland moves closer to adopting new regulations on top court

AP News
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Posted: Jul 22, 2016 1:01 PM

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's lawmakers on Friday approved a final version of legislation regarding the Constitutional Tribunal, in a move the ruling party says is intended to end the conflict around the top court.

Opponents of the legislation say they will appeal to the same court to block the legislation, saying parts are unconstitutional, and the head of the court has appealed to the president to veto the legislation.

The tribunal has been at the center of a controversy since the conservative Law and Justice party took power and began efforts to gain control of the court. The tribunal has the power to block government-proposed legislation if it finds it unconstitutional, and has used this power on legislation proposed by the previous Law and Justice government.

The ruling party's moves — including appointing more judges though there were no vacancies — have paralyzed the court and have led international organizations and foreign leaders to say that Poland's rule of law is threatened. U.S. President Barack Obama expressed his concern over the "impasse" around the tribunal when attending a NATO summit in Warsaw earlier this month.

Amid vehement protests from the minority opposition, Poland's lawmakers voted Friday to approve a bill the ruling party said included suggestions from European law experts of the so-called Venice Commission, which has urged the parliament to solve the conflict and indicated the direction.

The last step for the bill to become law is approval from President Andrzej Duda, who hails from the ruling party and remains its ally.

Opponents say the bill includes unconstitutional clauses and allows the government to influence the court's work. They criticize some provisions like the requirement that cases be taken up in chronological order, which could lead to minor cases blocking those vital to the citizens, and a power for any four judges on the tribunal to veto any of its rulings. Law and Justice appointed three of the current members and hopes to appoint a fourth in December.

The head of the court, Judge Andrzej Rzeplinski, has appealed to Duda to reject the bill or submit it to scrutiny by the tribunal, while opposition lawmakers vowed they will take the bill to the tribunal.