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Polish draft law would muzzle judges: European rights official

WARSAW (Reuters) - A leading European human rights official has said new Polish plans to reform the judiciary are aimed at muzzling judges and has urged the country’s Senate to reject them.

FILE PHOTO: Dunja Mijatovic, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, holds a news conference in Sarajevo, Bosnia, December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

The draft law, already approved by the lower house of parliament, would allow judges who question planned reforms to be disciplined.

The ruling nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS) says it will make the judiciary more efficient. But the commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe criticized the plans in a letter published on Friday.

“I am particularly concerned that the provisions of the new bill are designed to further silence dissent among critical judges and prosecutors and curtail their independence,” Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic said in the letter to Senate speaker Tomasz Grodzki, published by Poland’s foreign ministry.

The Senate, the upper house of parliament where the opposition has a majority, could redraft or reject the draft legislation when it debates it next week, but the PiS-controled lower house would still have the power to overturn any changes.

Mijatovic also said Poland’s government had done little to implement her earlier recommendations on protecting judicial independence, published in a report in June.

Poland’s Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek told a news conference on Friday that Mijatovic’s letter constituted unacceptable meddling in Poland’s internal affairs.

The European Union has already said the draft legislation would imperil the rule of law. It has launched legal action in what it says is defense of Polish courts’ independence.

On Thursday the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, a body of legal experts, came to Warsaw for consultations on the judicial reforms.

Brussels has asked Poland to hold off adopting the draft law until it consults the Venice Commission, which is due to release an opinion next week.

On Saturday judges in Poland, supported by colleagues from other countries, will stage a protest against the latest changes in the justice system.

Reporting by Marcin Goclowski, Editing by Joanna Plucinska and Gareth Jones