Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1343, (4 - 10 May 2017)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1343, (4 - 10 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Conservative opposition

Judges are keen to avoid a head-on clash with the executive, writes Mona El-Nahhas


Though a majority of judges oppose the new law regulating the Supreme Judiciary Council, the State Council, the Administrative Prosecution Authority and the State Litigation Authority they have no choice but to abide by stipulations.

All four have now begun the process of selecting new heads who are due to be appointed in July. Under the new law each judicial authority is obliged to send the names of three nominees for the chairman’s seat to the presidency. It is then up to the president to decide between them.

The law stipulates that candidates’ names must be submitted to the president 60 days before the chairman’s seat becomes vacant. If the authority fails to meet the deadline, and if the nominees do not meet the required criteria or less than three names are presented, the president has the right to select the head of the authority from its seven oldest deputies.

Judicial bodies say that now the law is in effect they have no choice but to abide by its articles, however controversial.

The law, which sets new criteria for appointing the heads of judicial bodies, was approved by parliament on 26 April and ratified 24 hours later by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.

Before the new law was passed the president’s role was limited to endorsing the appointment of the authority head. The oldest deputy chairman of the authority was usually the sole nominee and seniority the only criteria applied in selecting the chairman.

Judges had hoped Al-Sisi would accommodate their concerns over the new law and return it to parliament for amendment. The president’s ratification of the law disappointed them and has forced them to reconsider their earlier plans.  

Keen to avoid a direct clash with the state escalatory measures have been abandoned. Plans to suspend work at courts, not to supervise the coming parliamentary poll and internationalise the case have all been cancelled.

Reports that an emergency general assembly of the Cassation Court had been called for 2 May were also denied.

An official statement issued by the Cassation Court on Saturday stressed that none of the judges had asked for an emergency general assembly to be convened.

Judges Club Chairman Mohamed Abdel-Mohsen was rumoured, in his capacity as the Cassation Court’s deputy chairman, to be behind the moves to call a general assembly. Now, with the four judicial bodies backing away from direct confrontation with the state, it has been left to the Judges Club to oppose the law.

Abdel-Mohsen argues that in compromising judicial independence “the only loser is the state”. The Judges Club had considered calling an emergency general assembly on 5 May but following a meeting with branch judges clubs on Monday the assembly was delayed. Yet according to a statement issued by the Judges’ Club following the meeting judges remain committed to showing the new law is unconstitutional.

Proposed by parliament in December 2016, the judicial bodies law has long been the focus of judges’ anger. Judges say the law violates the separation of powers guaranteed by the constitution and the State Council, which provides parliament with an advisory opinion on new legislation, told MPs the law was in violation of the constitution.

MPs went ahead and voted for the new legislation anyway, with many arguing the aim of the law was to ensure the most efficient judge, and not just the oldest, is selected to head each of the four authorities.

Samir Al-Bahi, chairman of the State Council Judges Club, told Dream satellite channel on 27 April that the new law “heralds the death of judicial independence in Egypt” and added that judges would use all available legal channels to contest the law.

On Sunday lawyer Essam Al-Islamboli appealed to the Administrative Court to halt implementation of the law. Al-Islamboli is petitioning to have all articles of the controversial law referred to the Supreme Constitutional Court.

“How can the president of the republic choose the head of the Supreme Judiciary Council [SJC] when Article 159 of the constitution authorises the chairman of the SJC to question the president in cases in which he is accused of violating the constitution,” asked Al-Islamboli.

Sources close to judicial circles claim the reason the law was issued was to prevent Yehia Al-Dakrouri from becoming chairman of the State Council.

Al-Dakrouri was the judge who in June ruled that the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir could not be transferred to Saudi Arabia. As the oldest deputy chairman of the State Council, Al-Dakrouri would automatically have taken over from the current chairman Mohamed Massoud when Massoud retires in July.

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