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Poland’s President Vetoes Changes to Judicial System

Polish President Andrzej Duda makes a statement in Warsaw, Poland, Monday, July 24, 2017. Duda said he would block two of three laws passed by the legislature that aimed at changing the judicial system. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
Poland's President Vetoes Changes to Country's Judicial System
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Poland’s president has vetoed two of three laws designed to change the country’s judicial system.

Opponents of the laws have argued that they will harm the independence of the judicial system.

Supporters say the country’s judicial system is slow and needs to reform.

Andrzej Duda announced his decision on national television.

Duda said, “I have decided to send back to the parliament, which means I will veto, the law on the Supreme Court, as well as the one about the National Council of the Judiciary.”

His decision followed more than a week of street protests across the country.

Law would give ruling party too much power, critics said

The first law would permit the justice minister to choose Supreme Court justices. The justice minister also serves as the top lawyer for the government or the prosecutor general.

Under Poland’s political system, the bill would have put the Supreme Court under the control of the ruling political party.

The president said the prosecutor general has not traditionally had such powers and that he could not permit them now.

A second law would give lawmakers the power to choose who sits on the National Judiciary Council. That council nominates Supreme Court Judges.

The vetoes appeared to surprise members of the ruling Law and Justice Party. Duda has been considered an ally of the ruling Law and Justice Party although he ended his membership in it when he took office.

There had been unconfirmed reports of conflict between the president and party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

Leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, votes to approve law changing the courts in the parliament in Warsaw, Poland, July 20, 2017.
Leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, votes to approve law changing the courts in the parliament in Warsaw, Poland, July 20, 2017.

Duda said he would sign a third law which would change how judges in lower courts are appointed.

American and European officials expressed concerns about the laws after the full legislature approved them.

At the time, the U.S. State Department urged all sides to make sure such reforms would not violate Poland’s constitution or international laws. It also said the reforms should respect the ideas of judicial independence and separation of powers.

The European Union threatened to start the process of ending Poland’s EU voting rights if the laws were passed.

Earlier, European Council President Donald Tusk said that he was “disappointed” that Duda had not accepted an invitation to discuss the laws with him before they were passed. Tusk is a former prime minister of Poland.

The Associated Press reported that Duda said he would present new versions of laws reforming the Supreme Court and the National Council of the Judiciary within two months. He said he would discuss the changes with experts.

The legislature could reject the veto but only with support from minority parties.

The Polish president said he did not discuss the legislation with either the ruling party leader or the prime minister.

He said a former leading anti-communist activist, Zofia Romaszewska, most influenced his decision to veto.

Duda said the activist told him, “Mr. President, I lived in a state where the prosecutors general had an unbelievably powerful position and could practically do everything. I would not like to go back to such a state.”

The Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Polish president Lech Walesa called Duda’s move “a difficult and a courageous decision.”

I’m Caty Weaver.

And I’m Mario Ritter.

Isabela Cocoli reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English with additional material from AP. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

judiciary – n. The branch of government that includes courts of law and judges

prosecutor – n. a lawyer who represents the side in a court case that accuses a person of a crime and who tries to prove that the person is guilty

disappointed – adj. feeling sad, unhappy, or displeased because something was not as good as expected or because something you hoped for or expected did not happen

practically – adv. nearly

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