Polish judges law: MPs back further changes amid row

Image source, EPA
Image caption, Civil rights groups have protested against the Polish government's judicial reforms

Poland's lower house of parliament has approved further laws to reform the judiciary - a move that critics say threatens democracy.

The changes backed by the Sejm make it easier to replace the Supreme Court Chief Justice Malgorzata Gersdorf.

Earlier this month, Prof Gersdorf had refused to step down, rejecting a controversial law forcing senior judges to retire early.

Poland's Senate is expected to easily back the changes in the coming days.

The proposals then need to be signed by President Andrzej Duda, an ally of the governing conservative Law and Justice party (PiS), to become law.

What are the new measures?

They allow Prof Gersdorf's successor to be chosen when 80 judges are appointed to the 120-member Supreme Court.

Currently, the court's chief justice is elected by 110 judges.

The governing party is hoping that the amendments will speed up the process.

Other changes will place lower courts under greater political control, one judges' group says.

Media caption, The BBC's Paul Adams examines the political scene in Poland

Critics also say the governing party is rushing the changes through in case the European Commission decides to bring a case against Poland at the European Court of Justice.

Last December, the commission started an infringement procedure against Poland, saying the measures undermined judicial independence.

Poland's authorities insist the reforms, some of which have already come into effect, are aimed at updating an inefficient system and replacing judges who date back to a communist era that ended in 1989.

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