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Poland lower house adopts judiciary reform despite EU concerns

WARSAW/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Poland’s lower house of parliament approved the latest reform of the judiciary on Friday, despite the European Commission calling it to hold off adopting a law which it says would imperil the rule of law.

The European Commission believes the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has been politicising the judiciary since it came to power in 2015 and it has launched unprecedented legal steps against Poland to preserve the courts’ independence.

Commission spokesman Christian Wigand told reporters that Commision Vice President Vera Jourova had written to Polish authorities on Thursday expressing concern about the draft law.

In the letter, Jourova “strongly encouraged” Poland to consult the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission of legal experts and “invited” state organs not to take forward the draft legislation before the necessary consultations.

Still, PiS, which has a majority in the lower house of parliament, approved the bill and the government spokesman said that the commission probably issued its opinion “without having reliable information” about the changes.

The ruling party slightly watered down its proposals, by removing from the bill rules that would require judges to reveal the names of social media accounts they use under pseudonyms.

The legislation will still allow the punishment of judges who question their peers’ legal status or the validity of other courts, for example, by cutting their salaries or dismissing them.

“I would not like to live in a country where these regulations are implemented, because it will mean that we – as citizens - will not have the right to an independent court,” ombudsman Adam Bodnar told TVN24 private broadcaster.

The latest judiciary overhaul came after some judges questioned the independence of peers nominated by a panel set up under rules drawn up by the PiS-dominated parliament after nationalists won the 2015 elections.

PiS argues that the reforms are necessary to make Poland’s courts more efficient.

The legislation will now be discussed in the upper house of parliament, the Senate, which has been controlled by anti-PiS parties. The opposition can delay the legislation, but has no power to derail it, experts say.

Reporting by Jan Strupczewski in Brussels and Marcin Goclowski in Warsaw; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Nick Macfie