Czech judges denounce Poland's legal overhaul as attack on freedom

Slideshow ( 2 images )

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Senior Czech judges denounced a judicial overhaul in Poland as an attack on the rule of law on Friday, saying they could no longer stay silent over the changes in their neighbor.

Poland’s upper house of parliament was expected to pass a bill allowing parliament to appoint Supreme Court judges later on Friday, defying massed opposition protesters and the European Union, which has threatened sanctions.

Fellow central European power Hungary has stood by Poland’s rulers, saying the EU should not overstep its authority.

But the Czech judges said the bill was an attack on the Polish judiciary’s independence.

“While keeping in mind and respecting the sovereignty of the Polish state, we can not stay silent about the steps that threaten its very source, which is the untouchable values of European civilization, humanism and fundamental rights and freedoms,” their statement said.

It was signed by the heads of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court, along with the top state prosecutor and the country’s ombudsman.

Earlier this month, Czech Justice Minister Robert Pelikan wrote to his Polish counterpart expressing “concern” about the changes, which includes terminating tenures of Supreme Court judges.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party says the changes are needed to make courts more accountable and to ensure state institutions serve all Poles, not just the “elites” it says are the support base for the centrist opposition.

The Polish bill calls for replacing all Supreme Court judges except those elected by a judicial panel chosen by parliament. The Supreme Court’s tasks include validating elections.

Reporting by Jason Hovet; Additional reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova in Bratislava