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UN rights expert urges Egypt president to send judicial reforms bill back to parliament

[JURIST] Leandro Despouy, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights' Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, on Friday expressed "serious concern" over a recently passed Egyptian judicial reforms bill [JURIST report]. Despouy said:

Concerning the text of the law, the Special Rapporteur expressed particular concern over the fact that it does not set out clear criteria for the selection and appointment of judges and of the Chief Prosecutor, that it fails to recognize the right of judges to form and join associations of judges to represent their interests and protect their judicial independence, and that it does not set out objective criteria for the assignment of cases to judges, which would allow heads of courts to assign specific judges to cases against the right of every citizen to their natural judge. The law also fails to clearly address the separation between the prosecution and the executive power.

Moreover, the Special Rapporteur is seriously concerned by the fact that the law does not provide judges with basic fair trial guarantees in the framework of disciplinary procedures. The law prevents judges to be represented by a lawyer to defend themselves before a disciplinary court, and does not provide them with an effective right to challenge a disciplinary decision before a higher court, in breach of the constitutional and internationally recognized right of every person to have a judicial decision reviewed by a higher tribunal and to be represented by a lawyer of one's own choice before a court.

Finally, the law keeps the system whereby judges are seconded to perform non-judiciary work within the executive branch and raises the period of secondment from three to six years. Such secondment is incompatible with the separation of power and the independence of the judiciary. More worryingly, no objective criteria are set for decisions of secondment: therefore such decisions can be used as a significant pressure on judges to threaten them or reward them, and therefore seriously infringes their independence.
Despouy urged Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak [official profile; BBC profile] not to sign the law, but instead to send the bill back to parliament for "re-discussion ... with the full participation of the Judges' Club and experts in constitutional law, in order to allow the Parliament to adopt a considerably improved version of the law which guarantees the proper functioning of an independent judiciary." Read Despouy's full statement.

Although the Judicial Authority Law approved in June by the People's Assembly [official website] ends the justice minister's authority over the attorney general, it does not incorporate other changes proposed by reformist judges, such as elected members on the Supreme Judiciary Council. Members of the reform-oriented Judges Club [JURIST op-ed] and lawmakers in the opposition Muslim Brotherhood [party website; FAS backgrounder] said the bill does not guarantee the judiciary independence from Mubarak's government. Last month, three UN rights experts expressed "grave concern" [JURIST report] about "recent attacks against the judiciary of Egypt" and condemned a disciplinary panel decision [JURIST report] to reprimand pro-reform judge Hisham Bastawisi for "exercising his right to freedom of expression" when he alleged widespread voting fraud in last year's parliamentary elections.

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