Polish President Andrzej Duda [official website] announced on Monday that he is vetoing two proposed laws that threaten to limit the judiciary’s independence. One of the bills, passed [JURIST report] by the Polish Parliament [official website] last week with two others aimed at judicial reform, would allow members of parliament to appoint Supreme Court judges, a move that many citizens of Poland strongly opposed. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party [party website, in Polish] pushed the bill through just days after thousands of people rallied [JURIST report] in Warsaw to protest what has been seen as a massive power-grab by the party. The European Commission [official website] threatened to impose sanctions if the proposed bills were not abandoned. Duda, a former member [BBC report] of the PiS party, said that he supports a reform of the country’s judicial party but that it must increase [NYT report] the people’s sense of justice and security. Duda did sign a third bill which gives the justice minster the power to select the heads of the local courts. Parliament could challenge the vetoes, but it will need a three-fifths majority to override the President’s decision.
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 issued a warning to Poland over the appointment of the three judges. The EU 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.