Under the new law, the Supreme Court would be able to conduct “extraordinary reviews” of final judgments by lower courts, including those issued over the last 20 years.
In another key change to existing rules, an autonomous disciplinary chamber would be created within the Supreme Court that would in part be staffed by lay members elected by the upper house of parliament.
The law will also see Supreme Court judges retire after reaching the age of 65, but the president will be able to extend the retirement age in each individual case. Until now Supreme Court judges retired at 70 in Poland.
The European Commission 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 country’s ruling conservatives have hailed the new regulations as a vital reform of Poland’s inefficient and sometimes corrupt justice system, but the opposition has castigated the legislation as unconstitutional and claimed the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party was seeking to pack the court with loyalists.
The law passed in a 239-171 vote with 24 abstentions in the lower house of parliament, after a more than three-hour debate with bitter verbal exchanges between the opposition and the ruling majority.
Earlier, deputies approved all amendments submitted by the ruling party, while voting down all except one amendment filed by the opposition.
The bill now goes to the upper house of Poland’s parliament, the Senate, for further debate.
MPs approve new rules for National Council of the Judiciary
In another vote on Friday, Poland’s lawmakers approved legislation to reorganise the influential National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), a body tasked with safeguarding the independence of courts and judges.
Under the new regulations, which were drafted by President Andrzej Duda, the lower house of parliament would elect 15 members of the judiciary council. Until now all KRS members were selected by other judges.
Each parliamentary caucus would be able to name no more than nine candidates for members of the KRS, which is a panel that reviews and assesses candidates for judges.
Meanwhile, the Venice Commission international watchdog said on Friday that sweeping changes planned to Poland’s courts put the independence of “all parts” of the Polish judiciary “at serious risk.”
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.
He was commenting on a planned fact-finding visit to Warsaw by the Venice Commission, which is an advisory group to human rights body the Council of Europe.