Rearrival of the judiciary law
Shelved for nearly three months, the draft judiciary law has made a recent comeback, reports Mona El-Nahhas
According to an announcement last week by judge Ahmed Mekki, head of the committee assigned by the Supreme Judiciary Council (SJC) in mid 2011 to draft amendments to the current judiciary law, the amended draft law is soon to be submitted to the People's Assembly in order that it can be passed into law.
Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly, Mekki said that the draft law, long on hold, should now be passed, and that MPs including leftist Abul- Ezz El-Hariri and legal expert Mohamed Nour Farahat had both wanted to press the process forward.
The draft law aims to guarantee the independence of the judiciary from the other branches of government, with the authority that the justice minister used to have over the appointment of judges being given to the SJC under the new draft law.
Ahmed El-Zend, chair of the Cairo Judges Club, hurried to associate himself with the new law, asking for a meeting with the head of the SJC, Hossam El-Gheriani, and with Justice Minister Adel Abdel-Hamid to present the views of the country's various judges clubs on the new legislation.
El-Zend is due to run for re-election at the Cairo Judges Club on 23 March. The views of the various judges clubs were discussed at a meeting hosted by El-Zend on 16 February. "The aim of holding two such meetings is to guarantee the judges' support for the new draft before it goes to the People's Assembly," El-Zend told reporters on Saturday.
While the clubs are thought to approve the draft law, two or three articles are still controversial. At the meeting with El-Zend in February, the chairs of the branch judges clubs expressed their disapproval of an article dealing with the appointment of the country's prosecutor-general, arguing that clearer criteria should be used.
They also said that the heads of the first- degree courts should not be elected, as in the Mekki draft, since elections could violate the impartiality of the judiciary. Article 7 of the draft law dealing with the status of the Cairo Judges Club should also be discussed further, the chairs said, as under current plans the Club will be dissolved following the passage of the new law.
Commenting on the steps taken by El-Zend and his group on the draft judiciary law, Mekki said that the moves were welcome and expressed his readiness to attend El-Zend's meeting with El-Gheriani and Abdel-Hamid in order to answer questions on the draft.
Regarding the article dealing with the appointment of the prosecutor-general, Mekki said that in his opinion this already contained sufficiently clear criteria. Under the draft law, "the SJC will nominate a judge for the post of prosecutor-general, on condition that he has spent no fewer than four years as a judge on the bench. The nominee should also have the approval of the court for which he works," Mekki said.
"The same will be true for the heads of the first-degree courts, whose nomination will be made by the chairman of the judicial inspection sector after the approval of the SJC. In short, nobody will be able to nominate himself."
By involving himself so closely in the passage of the draft law, El-Zend seems to be repeating interventions made in July last year, when he argued with Mekki's committee over who should draft the new judiciary law.
El-Zend then formed a committee consisting of the heads of six branch judges clubs to prepare an alternative draft law. However, when he failed to find support for his draft, he toned down his previously hostile stance to the Mekki draft.
Last October, El-Zend joined with Mekki in the wake of the lawyers crisis, in which lawyers complained of articles in the new law that they said were "humiliating" to their profession and pressed for their removal from the draft.
Positioning himself as the defender of judges' rights, El-Zend escalated an already heated situation, eventually causing the cabinet to order a halt to the drafting process until the election of the new parliament.
One group of judges, especially those of a reformist persuasion, views El-Zend's current moves as being self-interested. These judges argue that the idea of a new judiciary law had not previously crossed El-Zend's mind, even after he had taken the post of Cairo Club chairman in 2008.
"Why is he meddling in this issue now," asked Hisham Geneina, former secretary- general of Cairo Judges Club and a leading reformist judge.
Geneina and others have said they will boycott the elections at the Cairo Club. "The nominations were done in secret, and few judges knew the dates. The timing was also suspicious, as the judges were busy supervising the parliamentary elections," Geneina said, claiming that the aim had been to try to ensure that the members of the current board keep their seats for a further three-year term.
At first, it was announced that the elections would be for one-third of the seats on the board, and partial elections were set for 17 February. However, on 25 January, the club's board decided to delay the elections until 23 March, stating that the majority of the judges would be too busy supervising the Shura Council polls in February to vote for the club's board.
Nevertheless, no provisions were made to reopen the nominations, even though many judges have said they will not take part in the elections under present circumstances. The possibility that the current club may be dissolved following the passage of the new law may also explain their reluctance to vote, however.