Judges in Poland took a 30-minute break from sessions Thursday in protest at government plans to reorganize a top judicial body, saying the changes would bring them under political influence, in violence of the constitution.
Many judges agree that the judiciary needs deep reform to make their work more efficient and speed up dragging cases, but they say the government plan to reorganize the National Council of the Judiciary is going in the wrong direction, toward political control.
The plan, currently being considered by lawmakers, calls for parliament to appoint 15 of the council's 25 judges and for the current members, all appointed by judges, to be dismissed. The council's tasks include drawing up and enforcing ethical guidelines for judges, reviewing judicial candidates and seeking opinions on new rules and regulations to ensure they abide by the constitution.
If submitted to a vote, the draft law would likely win backing as the ruling Law and Justice party has a majority. It is not clear when the vote will take place.
In protest, judges took breaks to attend specially organized meetings.
The opposition parties also criticized the government's plans.
"We all know that the justice system is calling for a reform but Law and Justice just wants to raze Poland's courts to the ground," said Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz of the Modern party. "The plan goes against the real needs."
The move is another step in the ruling Law and Justice party's efforts to take control of the justice system. Poland has been strongly criticized by European Union leaders who say the nation's rule of law is threatened by the ruling party's policies.
Shortly after taking power in 2015, the party moved to appoint judges of its own choice to a top court, the Constitutional Tribunal. Law and Justice also wants to replace the head of the Supreme Court and to reorganize the work of the nation's lower-level courts. It points to the general dissatisfaction with the slow pace at which courts handle cases as the main reason for change.