Thursday,14 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1356, (10 - 16 August 2017)
Thursday,14 December, 2017
Issue 1356, (10 - 16 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Overhauling criminal procedure

Parliament’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee begins debating amendments to the Criminal Procedures Law, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Overhauling criminal procedure
Overhauling criminal procedure

Discussion of the long-awaited draft amendments to the Criminal Procedures Law150/1950 began this week.

On 2 August Bahaaeddin Abu Shokka, head of the Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, told committee members the draft amendments should ensure fair and transparent trials. The new Criminal Procedures Law should be viewed as “Egypt’s second constitution”, he said.

“We hope this new law will translate the constitutional guarantee of fair trials for all citizens into reality,” said Abu Shokka, adding that if the government-drafted amendments fall short of this goal the committee will intervene.

The committee has scheduled two weeks of hearing sessions to discuss the amendments.

“Judges have already given their opinion on the amendments to the committee,” said Abu Shokka. “The head of the Higher Council for Judges, the chairman of the Court of Cassation and the heads of appeal courts in eight governorates were all invited to take part in discussions last week.”

Professors of criminal law and representatives of civil society, including the head of the Bar Association Sameh Ashour, were expected to address the committee on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Hearings could continue until September, at which time the amendments will be presented to MPs in a plenary session,” said Abu Shokka.

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Omar Marawan told reporters that the draft amendments have been designed to speed up litigation, particularly in terror-related cases.

“The law is being changed after judges, MPs and civil society advocates argued slow litigation helps criminals and terrorists to evade punishment. There was a consensus the law needed to be amended to help combat terrorism, reduce the time trials take and address problems related to custodial sentences,” said Marawan.

The cabinet has issued a statement saying the draft has already been reviewed by the Interior Ministry and the State Council.

“The amendments were compiled by a panel of judges, criminal law professors, members of the cabinet’s Higher Committee on Legislative Reform, Interior Ministry legal experts and representatives of civil society organisations,” said the statement.

Interior Ministry officials and MPs began pressing for an overhaul to the 1950 Criminal Procedures Law following December’s suicide bombing of a church attached to St Mark’s Coptic Cathedral which left 27 people dead and more than 40 injured.

Suleiman Wahdan, deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, said one objective of the amendments is to expedite the trials of terrorist suspects. “There is no problem with the existing penalties for terrorist crimes. The problem lies in the way trials are spun out, helping terrorists to evade punishment,” he said.

Abu Shokka agrees the amendments should help clamp down on terrorist suspects but warns they cannot focus exclusively on security concerns.

“Promoting justice in a manner that ensures rights enshrined in the constitution are upheld should take priority,” said Abu Shokka.

“The amendments will ensure detainees are treated fairly and are not subjected to torture or physical and psychological abuse.”

“The prosecutor-general, members of the prosecution and judges will be given the right to inspect detention centres at any time to ensure the rights of defendants are respected. The draft law also states that homes can be searched by policemen only after they have been given prior approval by the prosecution authorities.

According to Abu Shokka, the amended law includes 560 articles, 50 of which have been redrafted and 44 of which are new.

Judges and MPs say they hope the amendments will reduce unnecessary red tape in the legal system.

“Egypt’s population was 17 million when the Criminal Procedures Law was issued in 1950,” points out Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs Committee deputy head Ahmed Helmi. “Now it is close to 100 million, and procedures have to be speeded up to ensure fair, quick and transparent trials.”

Helmi told reporters that judges had complained to the committee of the deteriorating structural conditions of Egypt’s courts.

“Court buildings are old and lack the logistical support and infrastructure that guarantees fair trials,” he said.

The Criminal Procedures Law has been amended 20 times since it was issued in 1950, but according to the cabinet the sluggish pace of trials has continued to undermine the principles of justice.

Tharwat Bekheet, a member of the Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, told reporters the new law will modify custodial sentences to ensure they do not infringe on personal rights.

The law, he said, has been amended in line with Article 54 of the constitution which states that a limit must be placed on custodial prison terms. The draft also prohibits the live broadcast of trials.

“The media will not be free to name judges supervising certain trials — particularly those related to terrorism,” said Bekheet. “This will safeguard judges against terrorist attacks.”

The amendments will also oblige the media to obtain the prior approval of judges before reporting on high-profile cases.

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