UPDATED: Polish lawmakers approve judicial reform that could help unblock EU funds

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WARSAW, Jan 13 (Reuters) – Polish lawmakers on Friday adopted a judicial reform that could unblock billions of euros in European Union funds withheld in an ongoing row between Warsaw and Brussels over the rule of law in Poland.

Splits in the ruling camp and the president’s misgivings, however, could hamper the reform’s progress.

The bill was adopted in the lower house of parliament thanks to votes from a majority of lawmakers from the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party while most of the opposition abstained.

Junior government coalition partner United Poland voted against the bill because it views the it as undermining Polish sovereignty.

Under the bill, the Supreme Administrative Court would deal with disciplinary cases instead of a contested chamber of the Supreme Court. Judges would also not face disciplinary action for questioning the independence of colleagues appointed by organs that critics say are politicised.

The bill will now go to the Senate, where the opposition holds a slight majority. It has declared the Senate would adopt amendments to the bill which were rejected in the lower house, but those can then be rejected again by PiS.

To become law, the bill would also need to be signed by president Andrzej Duda who had said he would not accept any regulation that would allow the legitimacy of judges to be called into question.

The president may sign the bill, veto it or refer it to the Constitutional Tribunal for review.

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