Thousands protest as Polish government rejects constitutional court ruling

Protests as Polish government rejects constitutional court ruling

Warsaw (AFP) - Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Warsaw on Saturday in the latest round of a constitutional row that has put the government on a collision course with the country's top court.

Warsaw city hall estimated that around 50,000 anti-government protesters rallied outside the constitutional court which is in dispute with the government over reforms which critics say undermine judicial independence.

The demonstration came as the government refused to publish a ruling by the constitutional court abolishing the new laws.

A government spokesman on Saturday said the ruling could not be published because doing so would make it legally binding.

"The Polish government cannot publish the verdict of certain constitutional court judges as it has no legal foundation," spokesman Rafal Bochenek told media.

The contretemps came a day after Council of Europe legal experts said the government's reforms to the court would undermine democracy and the rule of law in the EU member state.

The right-leaning Law and Justice (PiS) government introduced the reforms in December.

The changes include upping from a simple majority of judges to a two-thirds majority the bar for rulings and requiring 13 judges, rather than nine, to be present for the most contentious cases.

The Polish court itself struck down the reforms on Wednesday, creating a constitutional crisis and legal impasse after the government refused to recognise the ruling.

The Venice Commission -- a body of legal experts within the Council of Europe -- said Friday that the government's refusal to publish the judgement "would further deepen the constitutional crisis in Poland" and render justice ineffective.

Prime Minister Beata Szydlo says the court, having refused to apply reforms it deems unconstitutional, cannot rule on government changes to the judiciary and media even if Warsaw is constitutionally obliged to publish and apply court decisions.

Bochenek said Szydlo would pass on to parliament the Venice Commission's opinion so all parties could debate the issue.

Many demonstrators on Saturday carried aloft Polish and EU flags and banners bearing the text of the court verdict and the slogan "Poland is a state governed by law".

Opposition leader Ryszard Petru, of the Nowoczesna.pl liberal party urged President Andrzej Duda to ensure the consitution is upheld "at this historic moment for Poland" and for Duda and Szydlo to ensure publication of the verdict.

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