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Thousands rally in Poland to protest judicial reforms

[JURIST] Thousands of people rallied in Warsaw, Poland on Sunday to protest controversial proposals aimed at reforming the country's court system. The demonstration comes as a response [Reuters report] to a series of bills passed by Poland's Senate [official website] over the last week that many fear are a threat to judicial independence. The bills give parliament, where the Law and Justice (PiS) party [party website, in Polish] holds the majority, a greater role in selecting judges. One of the proposed bills will grant the justice minister the power to replace any Supreme Court justices and chief justices of the common courts without the approval of judicial circles. Opposition leaders, including Ryszard Petru of the Modern party and Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna [official website] of Civic Platform, have agreed to work together to keep the constitutionally-mandated separation of powers in place. They urged protestors to continue demonstrating in front of parliament until Tuesday when a debate concerning the Supreme Court bill will take place. The European Union [official website] has threatened to take Poland to court for undermining the democratic system of checks and balances. In order to become law, President Andrzej Duda [official website] will need to sign [BBC report] the bills. He has given no indication that he will veto the proposed legislation.

PiS has drawn ire from those in the international community for threatening democracy in Poland. In August 2016 Polish prosecutors began an investigation [JURIST report] into Constitutional Tribunal [official website] head, Andrzej Rzeplinski, to determine if he abused his power in preventing judges appointed by the ruling party to take part in decisions. In June of last year the European Commission [official website] issued a warning to Poland over the appointment of the three judges. The European Union began examining Poland's decision regarding the Constitutional Court [JURIST reports] in January 2016. That February the Polish government passed a controversial surveillance law [JURIST report] that grants the government [press release, Polish] greater access to digital data and broader use of surveillance for law enforcement. In December 2015 the leader of the European Parliament [official website] compared PiS' rise to power in Poland to a coup [BBC report], leading to Parliament calling for an apology. PiS has rejected [DW report] criticisms that its policies are undermining democracy in Poland.

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