Duda urges constitutional change amid plans for legal reform

Poland’s president on Monday proposed changes to the country’s constitution amid a row over sweeping legal reforms that have caused protests at home and warnings from Brussels, The News.PL reported.

Andrzej Duda’s move came after, in late July, he vetoed two of three controversial government-backed bills that would have given officials significant powers in appointing and dismissing court judges.

The changes planned by Poland’s ruling conservatives caused protests across Poland, while the European Commission said it was close to taking action against Warsaw for violating EU laws, warning that the planned overhaul of the country’s judicial system threatened the independence of courts.

Duda on Monday said he has drafted a proposal for reorganising the powerful National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), but said a constitutional amendment could be needed for that.

Three-fifths majority

Under the president’s proposal, KRS members would be elected by parliament with a three-fifths majority.

However, Duda said a “safety mechanism” was needed to ensure continuity for the Council of the Judiciary in case lawmakers failed to muster such a majority.

This safety mechanism would be based on the president stepping in to select candidates for the judiciary council if the lower house of parliament, the Sejm, failed to elect such judges within two months.

However, this requires a change to Poland’s constitution, Duda said, adding that he had proposed such an amendment.

Invitations for consultations

He invited parliamentary caucuses for “consultations” over potential changes to the constitution at 4 pm on Monday.

Under Duda’s proposal, groups of 2,000 citizens and judicial associations would be able to submit candidates for KRS judges.

A two-thirds majority is needed for lawmakers to amend the constitution in Poland.

Duda said, however, he would not agree to earlier plans by the country’s ruling conservatives to retire all judges from the Supreme Court in one go.

“That is not a solution that I as president could accept,” he said, proposing that Supreme Court judges should retire at the age of 65, with the option of applying to the president to continue in their posts for longer.

Some observers have said that if Poland’s Supreme Court judges were forced to retire in one fell swoop, the European Commission could trigger the bloc’s Article 7 against Warsaw, which could theoretically result in sanctions.

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