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Poland passes controversial law to weaken top court

[JURIST] Poland's ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) [official website, in Polish] passed [Reuters report] new legislation Tuesday that opponents decry as damaging to the checks and balances within the government. The law creates new hurdles for Poland's Constitutional Court [official website, Polish], which functions to determine the constitutional validity of challenged laws. The new legislation will require the court to have 13 judges present, as well as a two-thirds majority vote to make a ruling. The previous procedure required only nine judges and a basic majority of the 15 total judges. The legislation will also implement a longer wait period for a ruling to be made from the time a decision is solicited. The time is now set at three to six months, a massive increase from the previous policy of two weeks. Opposition leaders worry the law will make it harder for the court to function and could potentially paralyze the court all together, thereby strengthening the legislative branch at the expense of the court. The law faces criticism [NPR report] from the Polish supreme court, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Amnesty International and even former Polish President Lech Walesa [bio].

The PiS party, a conservative party elected in October, holds an overwhelming majority [BBC report] of positions in the Polish government including the lead in both parliamentary houses and the presidency. Earlier this month, the leader of the European Parliament [official website] compared PiS' rise to power in Poland to a coup [bbc report], leading to the government to call for an apology. Prior to this political upheaval, Poland was in hot water for hosting a CIA-operated secret prison [JURIST report], where terrorism suspects were held and tortured between 2002 and 2005. An investigation [JURIST report] into the prison has been ongoing in Poland since 2008.

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