Council of Europe: Polish court reform still problematic

Plans by Poland's right-wing government to reform its constitutional court still do not meet democratic standards, an expert panel of the Council of Europe - the continent's human rights watchdog - said on Friday.

The reform is one of several contentious moves which have raised rule-of-law concerns in Poland and prompted action from the European Union which could lead to Warsaw being stripped of voting rights within the bloc.

In a statement, the Venice Commission said "it does not meet two essential standards of balance of power in government: the independence of the judiciary and the position of the constitutional court as the final arbiter in constitutional issues."

The commission, which is made up of constitutional law experts, said the reform was slightly improved from a first version.

For example, clauses forcing the court to make decisions with a two-thirds majority - hence making it harder to adopt rulings - and giving the Polish president and justice minister powers to discipline judges were scrapped.

But there are still provisions that seem aimed at delaying and politicizing the work of the court, including allowing hearings to be blocked by the simple absence of the prosecutor general, the Venice Commission found.

The government, which took office in November, has been locked in a stand-off with the Constitutional Tribunal for months, and is refusing to publish its judgements - a formality that is needed to make them legally valid.

Last update: Fri, 14/10/2016 - 15:03
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