WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Europe's pre-eminent human rights organization on Thursday called Poland's vote to change regulations governing a top legal body a "major setback for judicial independence," highlighting widespread international criticism.
Nils Muiznieks, the human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe, said that Poland had neglected "compelling contrary advice" before the legislature went ahead with approving the rule. It will see members the National Council of the Judiciary picked by parliament, which is dominated by the conservative Law and Justice party. Previously they were elected by judges.
The council's tasks include enforcing ethical guidelines for judges and reviewing judicial candidates. The opposition says the changes violate the constitution and bring judges under political influence.
"The politicians will now have the sole power to choose judges. The reform gives the politicians power over the judges," said Barbara Dolniak of the opposition Modern party.
At the same time, the opposition also voiced outrage at a draft law proposed late Wednesday by the ruling party concerning the Supreme Court. In a surprise move, it calls for the current members of the top court to retire, except for those who have the backing of the justice minister.
"This is a kind of an accumulation of power and it changes the system of power in Poland," said judge Michal Laskowski, spokesman for the Supreme Court.
Poland is already under criticism from the European Union, which says its policies threaten the rule of law.
The new rules on the National Council had already been criticized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and other international and national legal institutions.
The Polish government defended the new rules on the National Council, saying it meant an "end to a corporation system, a system where the third power (the judiciary) was outside any control."
They mean that the Poles will have influence over the choice of judges through their lawmakers, said Deputy Justice Marcin Warchol.
Casert reported from Brussels