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Thursday, 27 April 2017

House escalates beef with judiciary in one of its most active days ever

The big brawl over who gets to appoint the heads of judicial bodies: The House of Representatives had what may its most productive day ever on Wednesday after passing controversial amendments to the judicial code without so much as holding discussions on the Council of State’s objections to the act. The amendments, which would grant the president the right to appoint heads of the judicial committees, have been widely condemned by jurists, who claim the law would curb the independence of the judiciary guaranteed under the constitution. Two-thirds of MPs voted to pass the act, Al Masry Al Youm reports. A number of MPs walked out of the session in opposition to the law, including members of the 25-30 Coalition. Some have called into question the validity of the voting procedures, Al Shorouk reports.

What are these judicial bodies? They are the State Council (Maglis El-Dowla, effectively the nation’s top administrative court), the Court of Cassation (the nation’s top appeals court), and the State Lawsuits Authority and the Administrative Prosecution Authority.

What power does the law grant the presidency? It will allow the president to choose the head of each of the nation’s primary judicial bodies, selecting in each instance from a list of three nominees proposed by each body. “The current judicial authority law stipulates that the heads of judicial bodies are selected based on seniority by their judicial councils, and that the president simply ratifies the council’s selection,” Ahram Online notes.

The judiciary responds: The Judges Club of Egypt has already fired back, announcing it will hold a general assembly on 5 May to “reaffirm the independence of the judiciary” and calling on the Supreme Judicial Council to reaffirm its opposition to the law. The club is also demanding President Abdel Fattah El Sisi veto the law, according to AMAY. The Judges Club (effectively a cross between a union and an industry association for Egypt’s judges) appears to have also issued a veiled threat to the head of the Court of Cassation — the nation’s highest appeals court — demanding he call an assembly of all of the nation’s judges for next Tuesday. The club said it will call for the gathering if he doesn’t and would then move to replace him (a power the club doesn’t enjoy). A petition now circulating calling for the meeting apparently has some 400 judges’ signatures on it.

The House also approved amendments to the Emergency Law that would allow for the indefinite pre-trial detention of those charged on terrorism cases, Al Masry Al Youm reports. MPs also made changes to the criminal code to expedite the prosecution of those charged with terrorism-related offenses, according to the newspaper.

Another controversial bill up for debate was the proposed National Elections Act, as the House Legislative Committee reportedly refused a compromise by the government. The law, which caused the “rumble in the parliament jungle” last month, had been sent back to the House Legislative Committee after MPs failed to agree in a civilized way on whether to approve clauses that mandate judicial supervision of the proposed national elections regulator. The Ismail cabinet had proposed a compromise that would see the role of the judiciary limited to the next ten years, according to Al Shorouk.

The House passed a number of measures related to the economy on Wednesday — none of them had anything to do with the proposed Investment Act, which was supposed to have been approved by the Economic Committee this week. The decisions included:

  • Approving a law that would grant the Industrial Development Authority an independent budget (as opposed to tying it to the Trade and Industry Ministry) to give it more flexibility to operate, Al Mal reports.
  • Approving a law that would require manufacturers to receive approval from their industry’s division at the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Egyptian Industries before being listed in the Commercial Registry.
  • Approving a EUR 68 mn grant from the French Development Agency to supply gas to homes, according to Al Shorouk.
  • The House Energy Committee also gave its preliminary approval for establishing a Nuclear Energy Authority which would supervise nuclear facilities.

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