Polish government curtails constitutional tribunal's powers
By Eric Maurice
Poland's parliament passed a law on Tuesday (22 December) to change the functionning of the Constitutional Tribunal, in a move that increases concerns over creeping authoritarianism by the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS).
Two hundred and thirty five members of the Sejm voted in favour of the bill, which imposes a two-thirds majority among the 15 constitutional judges, instead of a simple majority, with a quorum of 13 judges instead of nine.
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The new law also extends from two weeks to three or six months the delay before which the tribunal can rule on a case which has been refered to it.
The new law, which has to be confirmed by the upper house whithin 30 days, is considered as an attempt by PiS, and its leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, to put the tribunal under political control and to free itself from legal checks and balances.
In a written opinion, the Supreme Court warned that the new law “presages huge potential delays and, in fact, the paralysis" of the Constitutional Tribunal.
"The systemic position of the tribunal is one of the few guarantees preventing a dictate of the majority," it said.
The vote follows a previous showdown between the tribunal and the government.
In November, the new government, which was sworn in in October, refused to confirm the appointment of five judges to the tribunal decided by the previous government and appointed five new judges instead.
'Band of cronies'
Critics said the new judges are political appointees and that the procedure used was unconstitutional. The Constitutional Tribunal itself rejected the nomination, but president Andrej Duda, a PiS member, like prime minister Beata Szydlo, swore in the judges anyway.
The new quorum introduced by the law would oblige the tribunal’s president to accept the government’s appointees.
Earlier this month, Kaczynski said at a meeting that the tribunal is a "band of cronies" that refused PiS " the right to introduce laws."
Kaczynski, who was prime minister in 2006, is now only an MP and party chairman but continues to act as the power behind prime minister Szydlo.
Last weekend, as the previous weekend, several dozens of thousands people demonstrated in Warsaw to protest against what they consider as a threat against democracy.
Poland's political evolution has also raised concerns in Europe.
Earlier this month, European Parliament president Martin Schulz said that the showdown with the tribunal amounted to a "coup.” MEPs considered holding a debate on concerns over the rule of law in Poland, but postponed the decision.
On Tuesday, before the vote in the Sejm, the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe called on Polish MPs not to enact - precipitously - legislation relating to the Constitutional Tribunal which may seriously undermine the rule of law."
“To propose far-reaching restrictions of the powers of a judicial institution, whose independence is constitutionally guaranteed, is a matter which merits in-depth reflection," Anne Brasseur said.