asks whether the Egyptian judicial system needs to be purged
In the wake of the 25 January Revolution, some people have been calling for a cleansing of the judiciary. This, they argue, would guarantee fair trials of corrupt officials under the former regime, topped by ousted president Hosni Mubarak. The public feels the revolution should not exempt any of the state institutions which practised systematic corruption during the Mubarak years.
Peaceful marches to the Higher House of the Judiciary were recently held to press for judicial reform. Such reforms, many say, should start with the roots of the judicial system. So, the thinking goes, the security apparatus and the general prosecution, the two bodies responsible for collecting evidence and submitting them in court, should be subject to an immediate purge.
Last week, the Interior Ministry made wide- ranging changes in its leadership which to some extent looks satisfactory. Now is the turn of the prosecution-general.
Dismissing the prosecutor-general, judge Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, whom the public considers a member of the old guard, is among the demands loudly voiced by Tahrir Square protesters. To a large sector of the public, the prosecution-general is not serious enough in conducting investigations with former men of the regime.
This may be the reason why evidence to convict certain officials was incomplete, leading judges to find some former state officials not guilty.
While agreeing that the prosecution is not taking its job seriously enough, Bahieddin Hassan, head of the Cairo Centre for Human Rights Studies, believes that dismissing the prosecutor- general will not solve the problem. "The problem is bigger than the prosecutor-general. The prosecution-general, as a whole, is in urgent need of reform," Hassan noted.
"Such a body, which for decades would shelve complaints of corruption, cannot now be trusted in investigating men of the former regime," Hassan added.
According to Hassan, a purge should not be limited only to the prosecution and judges. All related bodies, including the Justice Ministry and its Illicit Gains Office, and the Central Auditing Authority, should go through the same process of renewal.
However, Hassan does not believe there is genuine determination to get rid of the remnants of the former regime.
Professor of constitutional law Salah Sadeq agrees with Hassan. "I don't know why members of the former corrupt regime are still occupying leading posts in all state institutions, including the judiciary," Sadeq wonders. "Judges who supervised rigged polls in 2005 and 2010 are still in their seats, waiting to supervise the upcoming polls," Sadeq said.
Sadeq agrees with calls seeking to dismiss the prosecutor-general who was appointed by the former president.
He suggested that the post of the prosecutor- general should no longer be affiliated to the Justice Ministry. "The affiliation of the general prosecution, which is part of the judiciary, should be moved to the Supreme Judiciary Council [SJC]," Sadeq said, adding that this would guarantee the utmost degree of independence of the prosecution-general.
According to Sadeq, a purge of the judiciary does not only mean getting rid of corrupt judges who served the former regime. "It also means liberating the judiciary from the influence of the executive authority," Sadeq said, suggesting an immediate amendment of the current judiciary law that gives the executive authority, represented by the justice minister, the upper hand over judges.
In fact, the unlimited powers of the justice minister led many to call for a decree that would abolish his post.
By means of the current law, the justice minister has the authority to refer judges to investigation, allocate budgets of judges clubs, assign heads of first-degree courts and supervise their performance. Given such wide-ranging influence, justice ministers were used by the former regime as a tool to intimidate judges. A judge who dared take the side of judges usually faced dismissal.
This is exactly what happened with former justice minister, judge Mahmoud Abul-Leil who submitted a memorandum to the SJC agreeing to move the affiliation of the judicial inspection department from his ministry to the SJC. "When Gamal Mubarak [younger son of the ousted president] knew [about the move], Abul-Leil was dismissed," said judge Rifaat El-Sayed, a former criminal court head, during an interview with Al-Jazeera about ways of reforming the judicial system.
El-Sayed called for increasing the number of judges presiding over court cases. "The number of judges hearing cases does not exceed 5,000. So, I don't think it would be a problem if we opened the door for prominent lawyers to join as judges," he said.
El-Sayed also suggested that referring certain cases to specific chambers should be upgraded to erase doubts about the fairness of rulings.
During Mubarak's era, sensitive cases were usually referred to certain judges known for their support of the governing system. It was not strange that rulings in such cases usually served the interest of the regime. Judge Adel Abdel-Salam Gomaa, whose court panel is currently hearing the case of former interior minister Habib El-Adli, is one of those judges. Calls for excluding Gomaa from hearing El-Adli's case went unheard.
"It's unacceptable that corrupt judges who spoilt political life either by rigging polls or by issuing suspicious rulings are still in their posts hearing cases related to officials of the former regime," said judge Mahmoud El-Khodeiri who called upon the SJC to open the files of all such judges and to dismiss whoever is proved corrupt.
"This would help maintain the integrity of the judiciary and restore public trust in the judicial system once again," El-Khodeiri said, yearning for the days when the integrity of the judiciary was a red line not to be crossed.