Polish leader appoints top court judges against ruling

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<pPoland's president took the oath from 27 new Supreme Court judges Wednesday, stepping up the conflict over control of the judiciary and ignoring another top court that said the appointments should be suspended pending an opinion by European Union judges.

<pPresident Andrzej Duda appointed judges to the civil and penal chambers of the court as well as to its new chamber of extraordinary control, according to his top aide, Pawel Mucha. Reporters were not allowed to witness the ceremony.

<p"We are implementing another stage of the reform of the justice system that is so important to us," Mucha said, adding: "We are acting in the public interest."

<pThe new judges are part of changes made to the judiciary by the ruling conservative Law and Justice party, which says that judges active during the communist era, before 1989, must be replaced. Many of the court's judges have been forced to retire early.

<pBut critics say the changes violate the constitution and are putting Poland's courts under the party's political control. They also say Duda is violating the constitution and warn he may be brought to account before a special tribunal.

<pCourts in some other EU countries have suspended extraditions to Poland amid questions about judicial independence and fairness of trials there.

<pThe changes have put Poland at odds with EU leaders who have triggered sanctioning procedures.

<pThe court is seeking the opinion of the EU's Court of Justice and, backed by a decision by the Supreme Administrative Court, has suspended the nomination of new judges. Also, the European Commission has asked the EU court's view on the broad changes to Poland's judiciary and on the suspension of new nominations. Its ruling will be binding for all 28 EU member states.

<pMucha insisted that the controversy does not affect the president's powers to appoint judges and that the court's workload required the swift appointment of new members.

<pA group of opponents protested in front of the Presidential Palace, where the ceremony was held.