Supporters of the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, which was elected in late 2015, have criticised Polish courts for taking too long to hear cases, and have accused judges of being an elite, sometimes-corrupt self-serving clique often out of touch with the problems of ordinary citizens.
Law and Justice politicians have said that reforms are vital.
But law experts from the Venice Commission, an advisory group to the human rights body Council of Europe, said on Friday that the early removal of a large number of Supreme Court judges due to a lowering of the retirement age would jeopardise “the independence of the judiciary as a whole.”
The European Union's executive said in July that it was ready to trigger a formal warning by the EU if Poland dismisses or forces the retirement of Supreme Court judges.
The Venice Commission also said that giving the Polish parliament the right to select members of the influential National Judiciary Council (KRS), a panel that reviews and assesses candidates for judges, in conjunction with the proposed immediate replacement of the currently sitting members, “will lead to a far reaching politicisation of this body.”
At the moment all members of the KRS, a body tasked with safeguarding the independence of courts, are selected by other judges.
The Venice Commission said that the posts of the justice minister and Public Prosecutor General should be separated.
The merger of the offices “results in excessive powers for one person,” the commission said.
“Such power has direct negative consequences not only for the independence of the prosecutorial system from the political sphere, but also for the independence of the judiciary, the separation of powers and the rule of law in Poland,” it added.
Wojciech Stańczyk, who represents Poland at Venice Commission meetings, told reporters on Friday that many of the watchdog’s arguments stem from a "lack of understanding of the Polish legal system".
The Venice Commission last year probed changes to Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ushered in by the Law and Justice government.
In late October, Poland's Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said that Poland “will not accept external intervention” in moves to overhaul the legal system backed by the country's ruling conservatives.
Source: Council of Europe