Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1319, (10 - 16 November 2016)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1319, (10 - 16 November 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Defendants’ rights at risk

Judges clubs are preparing for a conference to discuss ways to speed up the work of courts, writes Mona El-Nahhas

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Al-Ahram Weekly

On 28 October the chairmen of 21 judges clubs proposed ways to speed up litigation. The assembled judges suggested amending four laws, including the penal code, the pleading law, the law regulating measures of contesting rulings before the Court of Cassation and the judiciary law. According to statements by Cairo Judges, Club Chairman Mohamed Abdel-Mohsen, amendments to the laws should be ready within three months.

Four of the proposed amendments were first mooted in August 2015 when they were rejected by some judges on the grounds that they compromised the rights of defendants as guaranteed by the constitution.

The State Council and the Bar Association, which opposed the changes, recommended to then justice minister Ahmed Al-Zend that he shelves the changes to avoid a possible crisis with the Supreme Judiciary Council.

The issue has been re-opened after President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s call during last month’s National Conference for Youth to speed up the work of courts.

On 4 November the Cairo Judges’ Club issued a statement saying possible amendments were still at the discussion stage.

According to the statement, it will be the job of the committee, formed during the meeting of the heads of judges’ clubs, to propose amendments to existing laws so as to streamline the work of the courts.

Abdel-Sattar Imam, chairman of Menoufiya Judges Club, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the committee will finish work within three months. One of its aims, he said, would be to ensure that cases related to terrorism and corruption are not dragged out unnecessarily.

Proposed changes will be discussed during an “urgent justice” conference scheduled early next year, with judges, law professors and bar association representatives taking part. The amendments will be then presented to the Supreme Judiciary Council and the Justice Ministry. It will be up to the latter to refer them to the House of Representatives in the form of draft laws.

Preparations for the conference, which is to be held under the auspices of President Al-Sisi, began during the 28 October meeting.

Proposed changes stirring controversy include an amendment giving the head of judges’ panels discretion over whether eye witnesses are summoned to give evidence or not. Those opposed to the change say it contradicts constitutional guarantees of the right to a fair and impartial trial and a host of international conventions to which Egypt is signatory.

Reducing the period allowed to appeal rulings before the Court of Cassation from 60 to 40 days has also been heavily criticised. Lawyers say the reduction would seriously hamper their ability to file appeals given that courts often issue their reasons for rulings 30 days after sentencing.  Defence teams would be left with just ten days to review rulings and file appeals.

The proposed changes also include annulling of the right of the prosecution to contest death sentences before the Court of Cassation, ending the automatic retrial of defendants previously sentenced in absentia and restricting the rights of lawyers to file recusal requests against court panels. 

Legal activist Mohamed Al-Baqer says the timing of the proposals following Al-Sisi’s statements provides clear evidence that the independence of the judiciary is now compromised. He warns that if the proposed changes are endorsed it will undermine guarantees for a fair trial. “I think a small group of judges will adhere to their earlier position and reject these flawed amendments,” said Al-Baqer.

Sources at the Supreme Judiciary Council say it is ready to approve any amendment providing the changes are in the public interest and respect the rights of defendants.

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