The Law and Justice (PiS) government argues that changes are vital to reform what it claims is an inefficient and sometimes corrupt judicial system in Poland.
But the opposition has called the planned reforms a "coup d'etat” and claimed that the Law and Justice party, which came to power in late 2015, wants to stack the country's Supreme Court with its own candidates.
Judiciary ‘suffers from two serious illnesses’
PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński told reporters on Friday that the Polish judiciary “suffers from two serious illnesses: the first is the collapse of moral principles, professional morality, general morality.
"The second issue is huge inefficiency, delays in cases, which cause many people to suffer in different ways.”
The European Commission announced on Friday that it would debate the situation in Poland next week at the request of its head, Jean-Claude Juncker.
Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva added that the EU's executive body was anxiously following developments in Poland.
Grzegorz Schetyna, the leader of Civic Platform (PO), Poland's main opposition party, said the planned changes to courts are “about PiS being able to introduce dictatorial government”.
Fears over rule of law
Five former Constitutional Tribunal judges have issued a joint statement calling on President Andrzej Duda and MPs to block the changes to the judiciary, saying they could “permanently deprive Poland of the position of a democratic state governed by the rule of law”.
PiS supporters have criticised Polish courts for taking too long to hear cases, and have accused judges of being an elite, self-serving clique often out of touch with the problems of ordinary citizens.
A PiS-backed bill on the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), a constitutional body tasked with safeguarding the independence of courts and judges, would see the terms of 15 of its members who are judges phased out, and their replacements selected by parliament -- not by other legal professionals, as is currently the case.
A second bill would change the way that heads of district and appeals courts are appointed, making the justice minister solely responsible for such decisions.
New rules on Supreme Court
Meanwhile, other planned changes would introduce new rules for appointing Supreme Court judges. Current judges of the court could be retired under a PiS-backed bill.
Poland is already embroiled in a row with Brussels over PiS's sweeping changes to the Constitutional Tribunal, the country’s top court, and concerns about the rule of law.