Reuters International

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland's parliament on Friday eased some restrictions on the constitutional court in a move the government said addressed concerns that the ruling party had undermined the rule of law but the opposition said the changes did not go far enough.

The United States and European Union have criticised Poland for undermining the constitutional court's ability to act as a check on government powers.

Critics say the government's changes to the tribunal had undermined democratic standards and are part of a broader push to seize more control over state institutions, charges denied by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

The government says the changes were needed to resolve a deadlock over how the tribunal functioned after the previous parliament, dominated by the current main opposition party Civic Platform, illegally appointed judges to the court last year.

Poland's 1997 constitution gives the tribunal power to block legislation approved by parliament and the president. But the constitution also says parliament should decide how the tribunal proceeds with cases.

The PiS-controlled parliament in December passed laws that court verdicts had to be passed by a two-thirds majority, instead of a simple majority, and imposed a requirement that cases be heard in the order they were received.

On Friday, parliament voted to remove the requirement for a two-thirds majority but introduced a clause giving judges the power to postpone a ruling by six months if four judges agreed.

It also said verdicts in the most important cases needed to be agreed by at least 11 of the 15 judges, instead of its previous requirement of at least 13, a number critics say effectively paralyses the court, and eased restrictions on the order in which cases could be heard.

PiS lawmaker Wojciech Szarama said the amendments sought to address the opposition's concerns.

Opposition lawmaker from the liberal Nowoczesna party, Monika Rosa, said in parliament during the vote: "The law on the constitutional tribunal will remain bad, unconstitutional and in fact will damage the functioning of the tribunal."

(Reporting by Marcin Goettig; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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