Polish president submits bill in move to end rule of law row with EU

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WARSAW, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Polish President Andrzej Duda on Thursday submitted legislation to dismantle a controversial disciplinary chamber for judges, hoping it would allow the government to end a dispute over the rule of law with Brussels and unblock European Union funding.

But the bill was met with disapproval by the Ministry of Justice and judges, who argued it wouldn't solve the key problems outlined by the EU and would lead to chaos.

Last October, the EU's top court ruled Poland must pay one million euros ($1.13 million) a day in fines for maintaining the disciplinary chamber for judges set up by the conservative nationalist Warsaw government.

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Duda said his bill would mean the chamber would be scrapped and its judges could either retire or be moved to other Supreme Court chambers. Disciplinary cases would be heard by a new panel composed of 11 Supreme Court judges chosen through a draw.

"This bill...is due to give the Polish government an instrument to end the row with the European Commission and unblock the national recovery and resilience (funds)," said Duda, an ally of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party. The bill is now expected to be sent to the lower house of parliament for discussion.

Deputy Justice Minister Marcin Warchol criticised the project saying it "wouldn't solve anything and won't meet the illegal requirements, demands and blackmail of the European Union" and would lead to "anarchy."

Warchol is a member of United Poland, a socially conservative grouping allied with PiS.

A PiS party spokesperson and a government spokesperson did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

A Polish group representing judges said the bill would do little to solve issues around politicised appointments of judges under the PiS and would worsen chaos in the judiciary.

"European tribunals have clearly said that judges appointed by the new National Council of the Judiciary cannot adjudicate," Polish Judges Association spokesman Bartlomiej Przymusinski told Reuters. "The essence of this bill is that they will all stay in the Supreme Court."

The National Council reviews all nominations of judges, and selects those who sit on the disciplinary chamber. Under the government’s reforms, the Council's members have mostly been appointed by the PiS-dominated parliament, whereas before they were chosen by judges.

Critics of the reforms say the Council has been politicised, and its appointees to the chamber have disciplined some judges because they were outspoken against the government. The government denies the accusation.

On Thursday the European Court of Human Rights pointed to a "systemic dysfunction in judicial appointments procedure in Poland", ruling that a company had been denied its right to a proper hearing due to how judges to the Supreme Court were appointed. read more

Laurent Pech, professor of European law at Middlesex University, London, called the new proposal a "fake compliance trick" as the disciplinary chamber is due to be reconstituted under a different name, and its unlawfully appointed members would be moved to other chambers.

Since coming to power in 2015, the PiS has ushered in a series of judiciary reforms that critics, including the European Union's executive, say may harm the independence of the courts.

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Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, Alicja Ptak, Pawel Florkiewicz and Joanna Plucinska; editing by Mark Heinrich, William Maclean

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