Sunday,17 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1250, (11 - 17 June 2015)
Sunday,17 December, 2017
Issue 1250, (11 - 17 June 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Madame magistrates

Women will soon pound the gavel as they preside over first degree courts for the first time, reports Reem Leila

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Newly appointed Minister of Justice Ahmed Al-Zend has announced the appointment of a new batch of female judges during the upcoming judicial term.

In an unprecedented step, women will preside over first degree courts and be appointed as assistants to the minister of justice.

The ministry undertakes a regular annual reshuffle in which the appointments of new female judges are included, “but this is the first time in Egypt’s history that women have been appointed assistants to the minister of justice,” Al-Zend said.

Al-Zend was speaking at a conference held by the National Council of Women (NCW) on 6 June entitled “Female Judges in the Arab World”, in recognition of the role played by women in society.

This was the third batch of female judges appointed to the current judicial term which ends on 1 July. The new one starts 1 September.

Al-Zend did not provide detailed figures on the number of female judges who will soon be appointed as heads of first degree courts. Still, the step allows Egypt to join the ranks of other Arab countries, including Sudan, Tunisia, Yemen, Palestine and Morocco, who already have female magistrates in several courts.

First degree or first instance courts examine misdemeanour crimes along with criminal offenses. This is in addition to cases related to family affairs.

In 2003, the first female judge in Egypt’s history, Tahani Al-Gebali, was appointed vice-president of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC).

According to Al-Zend, 30 female judges were appointed in 2007. This was followed by 12 more in 2008.

Al-Gebali called this week’s appointments historic. “Being the first Arab country to guarantee full political rights to women in 1956, Egypt has since lagged behind many other Arab countries.” According to Al-Gebali, the move is expected to boost President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s political and social reforms that have been criticised as too slow.

NCW head Mervat Al-Tellawi said the latest victory for women “simply means that everyone is beginning to recognise women’s rights and women’s potential. Our respected judges eventually realised how vital it is to have female chiefs of justice in our society. It also shows that women in Egypt are suffering far less discrimination these days. The new appointment of female judges in first degree courts shows that our leadership respects people for who they are.”

Doaa Emadeddin, a female judge who was appointed in 2007, believes the appointment of female judges in first degree courts sends a strong message about including women’s voices in the judicial process. “This is a positive step, but it shouldn’t be the last,” said Emadeddin.

The number of female judges in Egypt is almost 50. According to Somaya Abdel-Sadek, head of the Algerian State Council, from among 5,384 judges in Algeria there are 2,274 women, more than 42 per cent of the total number. “We aim for at least 50 per cent,” said Abdel-Sadek.

Female judges in Tunisia account for 27 per cent of all judges in the country while in Sudan it’s almost 17 per cent. “The percentage of female judges in many Arab countries is more than 10 per cent. Egypt should not be less than any of these countries as it is a leading country in the Arab region,” Al-Tellawi said.

Meanwhile, activist and lawyer Azza Suleiman said Al-Zend’s announcement was a positive step towards eliminating all forms of discrimination against women. Suleiman said it was still unclear whether women will be appointed as judges in the appeals and cassation courts. “Appointing judges at first degree court comes under the authority of the justice minister while appointing judges at higher courts is a process conducted by the Supreme Judicial Council,” Suleiman said.

According to Suleiman, women should be optimistic because of Al-Gebali, the judge appointed as vice-president of the SCC, considered the highest court in Egypt. “Let’s have hope for a brighter future for women in the judicial field.”

Suleiman said the constitution gives women equal rights as men. As Article 11 of the 2014 constitution stipulates: “The state shall ensure the right of women to hold public and senior management posts of the state and ensure the designation of women in the judicial bodies and authorities with no discrimination against them.”

Suleiman stated the constitution is full of more such articles which ban discrimination based on gender. “Any violation of an individual’s right whether male or female is criminalised by the constitution,” added Suleiman.

However, Suleiman raised the point that women should not be appointed judges or in any high-ranking post in the government based on a ministerial or presidential decree. Women should go through the same usual procedures like men. “When that happens, then I will be able to say that government officials are applying the constitution. In this case, women should be appointed at the general prosecution and go up the ladder exactly as their male colleagues,” argued Suleiman who wondered about the criteria by which female judges will be chosen.

Women, according to Suleiman, should be trained as their male colleagues and join the Judges Institute where they are trained on how to be judges. “It is still unfair to appoint women in high-ranking posts but then deny them the right to go up the ladder like their male colleagues. But as I said, let’s hope for the best.”

Al-Tellawi said that being a woman judge was not against Islamic Sharia. She quoted Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb as saying, “Women have the right to assume judicial posts and senior positions in the government, as this does not violate regulations of Islamic Sharia.

“Nevertheless, in January 2014, the State Council rejected the appointment of a number of females in various judicial posts,” Al-Tellwai said.

Lawyer and feminist Mona Zulficar said Al-Zend’s decision was a “great victory” for women. “Women are gradually recapturing their rights which they started losing during the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood,” Zulficar said, alluding to the former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi whose one-year term ended in 2013.

According to Zulficar, Egypt has now become one of the Arab countries that appoint women judges in any court, not limiting their presence to just administrative or family courts.

 

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