Poland’s Senate Approves Law to Give Politicians Influence Over Judiciary

LONDON — Poland's Senate has approved a contentious law to give politicians substantial influence over the Supreme Court, in defiance of European Union criticism and large protests.

The bill proposed by the populist ruling party needs only the signature of President Andrzej Duda to become binding. Duda has so far followed the ruling party line.

Critics say the law would kill judicial independence and threaten the rule of law. The governing party says it's needed to improve the court's efficiency and break with communist-era judges and practices.

Image: Protesters in Warsaw
Protesters hold candles and shout slogans during a demonstration outside the Polish Parliament as Polish Senators decide on a new bill changing the judiciary system, Friday. WOJTEK RADWANSKI / AFP - Getty Images

Saturday's Senate vote was 55-23, with two abstentions.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets across the country in recent days to protest the proposed law.

"We will ... not allow them to trample European values," Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz, leader of the Polish People's Party (PSL), told a crowd Thursday in Warsaw. "We will not allow ourselves to be pushed out of the European Union."

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Meanwhile, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban — who has also locked horns with Brussels over a perceived disrespect for democratic freedom — pledged support for Poland's Senate on Saturday as the European Union threatens Warsaw with sanctions.

The hard-line prime minister said Hungary would use all European legal means to show solidarity with Poland amid what he described as a "European inquisition" over the courts law.

The Senate's decision comes less than a month after U.S. President Donald Trump delivered a landmark speech to the Polish people in which he praised Poland's "place in a strong and democratic Europe."

Image: Protestors in Wroclaw
People attend a protest against supreme court legislation in Wroclaw, Poland, Friday. AGENCJA GAZETA / Reuters

In his remarks to a packed crowd of thousands in Krasinski Square, Trump questioned whether the West — and by implication its values — had "the will to survive" calling it “the fundamental question of our time.”

The president lashed out at “the steady creep of government bureaucracy” that he said “drains the vitality and wealth of the people.”

"Defense of the West ultimately rests not only on means, but also on the will of its people to prevail," said the president.

Saphora Smith reported from London.