CAIRO: As judges await much-anticipated amendments to the Judicial Authority Law to guarantee the independence of the judiciary, disagreements over who should draft the amendments has them divided in fierce debate.
While the committee formed through a "personal" decision by newly-appointed head of the Supreme Judiciary Council (SJC) Justice Hossam Al-Gheryany, and headed by former head of Alexandria Cassation Court Justice Ahmed Mekky, is still drafting the amendments, the Judges Club drafted its own version of the amendments and will present it to an emergency general assembly on Sept. 9.
Claiming that the Judges Club is the sole representative of judges and is the only body entitled to amend the law, chairman of the club Justice Ahmed Al-Zend rejected Mekky’s committee shortly after it was formed and announced the formation of their own committee in a statement issued after a meeting with the heads of chapters in various governorates.
Meanwhile Mekky’s committee has been holding meetings and receiving suggestions from judges on their desired amendments saying that his mission is to collect opinions and draft the amendments but has no other authority.
"We are still receiving suggestions and drafting amendments simultaneously. Once we finish we will open the amendments to public discussion and present them to the SJC which is free to hold a general assembly to approve or present them directly to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)," Mekky told Daily News Egypt.
He said that they are open to receiving all suggestions and that the diversity in opinion does not mean that there is a conflict.
The suggested changes of Mekky’s committee include limiting the numbers of years that judges can spend outside Egypt on loan to six years once during their service, appointing the deputy heads of the Court of Cassation through direct elections rather than through seniority; and banning the appointment of judges in government or legislative posts to prevent any influence on judges from the executive authority.
The committee is also studying suggestions to bring the judiciary inspection body under the authority of the SJC rather than the Ministry of Justice; giving the council not the president the power to appoint the Prosecutor General and stipulating that he is a career judge; cancelling the state security prosecution altogether and appointing new judges based on the results of written examinations to avoid favoritism.
Critics of the suggested changes say that the foreign loan regulations would deprive judges from work opportunities outside Egypt, especially those on high demand because of their proficiency and good reputation.
They also say that the suggested new election mechanism will open the door for favoritism and polarization and is aimed to gain the support of youth judges.
Proposed elections would have the general assembly vote in one of the five most senior heads of the Appeals Courts compared to the current method of direct appointment through seniority.
Supporters of the changes, on the other side, say that this would allow more judges to work abroad rather than limit the opportunities to specific names.
"We want the independence of the judiciary system by transferring the authorities of the Ministry of Justice to the Supreme Judiciary Council and freeing judges from any pressure and influence from the executive authority," said Justice Zakaria Abdel Aziz, former head of Judges Club.
"The judicial authority must enjoy financial and administrative independence from the executive authority and judges shouldn’t be appointed in government posts and must not spend more than four years in any post," he added.
He said that job contracts abroad should come unnamed and candidates must be chosen for them through seniority. He also said that the Prosecutor General’s position must be judicial rather than "political."
Justice Osama Rabie, head of the Cairo Appeals Court and a leading advocate of judicial independence, further demanded ensuring the independence of the General Prosecution by having separate authorities to hand out indictments and to undergo investigations as well as adopting a system of promotions based on professional qualifications programs.
"We agree with the suggested amendments of Mekky’s committee; however, we also want members of the SJP to be elected rather than appointed directly based on seniority," he said.
Earlier in August, the Alexandria Judges Club held an emergency general assembly with the aim of overthrowing Mekky’s committee claiming that it wasn’t formed based on an official decision and that Mekky isn’t authorized to head it because he is no longer in duty.
However, the head of the club Justice Ezzat Agwa failed to put the motion of rejecting the committee to a vote when clashes erupted between members.
At the general assembly, head of SJC Justice Hossam Al-Gheryany said that he had the choice of drafting the amendments singlehandedly or forming a committee.
"If we do not achieve judicial independence the youth of the revolution will turn against us," Al-Gheryany told judges.
Protestors in Tahrir Square during and after an 18-day popular revolt that toppled the former president have repeatedly stressed that judicial independence is one of the revolution’s core goals.
"The club has failed to do anything for judges; they are saying that the judiciary is independent so why are they trying to amend the law. This is an attempt to cover their failure," Abdel Aziz said.
He refuted criticism that the committee members are too old and said that the committee headed by Mekky, a retired judge, includes judges of all ages.
"The remnants of the regime are trying to hinder the independence of the judiciary to preserve their personal interests," Abdel Aziz said
Abdel Aziz participated in drafting amendments to the Judiciary Independence Law in 1991, 2002 and 2003 through which they gained financial independence from the government and secured their own budget.
The judicial independence stream said that this is a personal battle between Al-Zend on the one hand and Al-Gheryany and Mekky on the other.
"We believe that the Judges Club is the entity that should speak for judges but what happened is that it abandoned the cause of judicial independence; they refused to present their suggestions to the committee which proves that this is a personal conflict," Rabei said.
He said that they support the SJP as the legitimate representative of all judges.
"This is the cause of all Egyptian people not only judges; if we had judicial independence, we would not have had all this corruption," Rabei said.