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Polish lawyers call on government to abandon legal reform plan

FILE PHOTO: General view of Supreme Court in Warsaw, Poland September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo

(reuters_tickers)

WARSAW (Reuters) - The association of Polish lawyers called on the government on Monday to abandon a plan for legal reform its says could undermine attorney-client confidentiality as part of a broader campaign to take control of the judiciary.

The Dziennik Gazeta Prawna daily and other media say the plan would enable prosecutors to ask lawyers to divulge details of conversations with their clients and make similar demands of doctors and journalists.

At the moment, only a court can make such demands. The government has not confirmed the media reports or outlined its plans in detail.

Prosecutor general and Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro told public radio last week that his ministry is working on changes to the law. He gave no specifics and said the regulations would not cover journalists.

"The ... National Bar Council of Attorneys at Law, bearing in mind the binding standards of European human rights law, appeals to stop work on this amendment to the rules of criminal procedure," the association said in a statement.

"Such action shall deprive citizens who are parties to legal proceedings of the right to a fair trial," the association of 50,000 legal counsels said.

The ruling nationalist party, Law and Justice, has made judicial changes including lowering the retirement age of Supreme Court judges.

Critics say the changes undermine freedom and democracy and they have triggered a lawsuit from the European Union over what the bloc says is a violation of the independence of courts in a member country.

Through legislation and personnel changes, the party has taken de facto control of much of the judicial system since being elected in 2015, including the constitutional court and prosecutors, who now report directly to the justice minister.

The government says the change is needed to improve the efficiency of the courts and rid the country of a residue of communism, which collapsed in Poland almost 30 years ago.

(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

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