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Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal rules against swathe of legal changes

PR dla Zagranicy
Paweł Kononczuk 09.03.2016 14:27
Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal on Wednesday ruled that a series of controversial changes to the way it functions – introduced by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party – are unconstitutional.
Constitutional Tribunal president Andrzej Rzepliński. Photo: PAP/Paweł SupernakConstitutional Tribunal president Andrzej Rzepliński. Photo: PAP/Paweł Supernak

In a decision that deepens Poland's constitutional crisis, the court said that changes pushed through at the end of last year by the conservative PiS party prevented the tribunal from working “reliably and efficiently.”

Under a bill put forward by PiS, the Constitutional Tribunal was required to pass rulings with a two-thirds majority, rather than the previous simple majority. Thirteen out of all 15 judges had to be in attendance, rather than nine judges, as previously.

The Constitutional Tribunal on Wednesday said those changes were unconstitutional.

But two of the judges, who were chosen by the current PiS-dominated parliament, disagreed with that ruling.

Critics say the PiS-backed changes will paralyse the tribunal. Law and Justice, which came to power promising sweeping change, had feared the tribunal would block key reforms it had pledged in the run-up to its landslide election victory.

Prime Minister Beata Szydło said on Tuesday she would refuse to officially publish the Tribunal’s pronouncement - a step essential for it to be valid - because the court sitting would not be taking place “in accordance with the law currently in force.”

Twelve judges took part in the sitting that started Tuesday, instead of the 13 specified by the PiS-backed amendments.

Ongoing row

An ongoing conflict over the tribunal began following the election of five new judges by the previous Civic Platform (PO)-controlled parliament shortly ahead of Poland's 25 October general election.

PiS said such a move by what turned out to be an outgoing government was premature and unfair.

After PiS swept to power, the new parliament revoked these judges and chose another five, who were promptly sworn in by President Andrzej Duda.

The Constitutional Tribunal later ruled that two of the five judges elected under PO had been elected unconstitutionally, though the other three elections were constitutional.

Meanwhile, a row erupted ahead of Wednesday’s ruling after a report by the wpolityce.pl news website that the Constitutional Tribunal had consulted with MPs from the opposition Civic Platform before making its decision.

Law and Justice deputy Michał Wójcik said that if the report proved true, it would be "one of the biggest scandals in the history of the Constitutional Tribunal."

Civic Platform deputy chief Borys Budka said neither he nor other PO MPs had access to the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling before it was publicly announced, describing such claims as “insinuations and base calumny by PiS politicians.” (pk)

Source: PAP

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