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Council of Europe criticises Poland's court changes - report

A ribbon is seen attached to a fence in front of the Constitutional Court building in Warsaw, Poland December 26, 2015. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

WARSAW (Reuters) - The Council of Europe’s advisory body has said reforms of Poland’s constitutional court pose a danger to the rule of law in the European Union member state, dealing another blow to the eurosceptic Warsaw government’s legal changes.

Poland asked the Council’s Venice Commission to comment on the legal changes after parliament overruled appointments made to the tribunal by the previous government, causing uncertainty over its proceedings.

The new parliament, controlled by the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party after an October election, named new judges in December and the PiS-backed president Andrzej Duda immediately swore them in.

The move, deemed illegal by the opposition, has already prompted the European Commission to launch a probe into the rule of law in Poland. The constitutional court itself, whose verdicts are final and cannot be appealed, ruled against the new appointments to its ranks.

In a draft opinion, obtained by the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper, the Venice Commission called the court “one of the central elements for ensuring checks and balances ... especially important in times of strong political majorities.”

“... as long as the Constitutional Tribunal cannot carry out its work in an efficient manner, not only is the rule of law in danger but so is democracy and human rights.”

The Council of Europe’s spokesman, Panos Kakaviatos, confirmed the wording of the draft to Reuters and the government confirmed it had received the document. The opinion can still be amended before its final version is ready by mid-March.

The reports by the Council, a 47-nation European rights organisation that works closely with the European Union, have no direct legal consequence, but EU policymakers work closely with the organisation.

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo told TV Trwam that Poland would send its comments to the Venice Commission, adding that any ruling would not be binding.

Reporting by Adrian Krajewski; Editing by Gareth Jones