On Monday, the State Council rejected amendments requested by the Lawyers Syndicate regarding a law governing their practice, including a proposed article that prohibits the searching, arrest or detention of lawyers while in court.
This decision comes in the wake of several violations of lawyers’ rights in the last few months, including one incident of assault of a defense lawyer during a court session, and repeated referrals of lawyers to prosecution for questioning following verbal altercations with the presiding judge.
Last March, the Cabinet approved of the amendments proposed by the syndicate, which had been adopted in a presidential decree. However, the State Council rejected several of these amendments, sending the draft back to the Cabinet for review.
In its reasoning, as published in privately owned Al-Shorouk, the State Council stated that prohibiting the detention of lawyers for crimes committed in court is unconstitutional. The council explained that crimes committed in court, like contempt of the court or a disruption of the session, are excluded from any legal immunity that lawyers may have, as these violations are considered to be caught “in flagrante delicto,” or “red-handed.”
However, Sameh Samir, a lawyer at the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, says that a number of international charters stipulate that lawyers should never be arrested while practicing in court.
The State Council also rejected an amendment stipulating that the completion of secondary school education is mandatory for acceptance into the Lawyers’ Syndicate. This amendment would exclude those who studied law through the open education system after completing a technical studies degree. Head of the Lawyers Syndicate, Sameh Ashour, said last month that the proposed amendments are meant to “elevate the status of lawyers” in front of the officers, prosecutors and judges that they face in court. The State Council argued, however, that the qualifying criterion for joining the syndicate is a law degree, and not secondary education.
Another rejected amendment had proposed giving the syndicate the authority to issue permits for foreign lawyers working in Egypt, and making permanent residency in Egypt a condition for practicing law in the country, which was deemed unconstitutional for violating the principle of equality between all citizens.
Lawyer Gamal Eid, who heads the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, says that the current law has been used unfairly against lawyers during their practice. In one of the most obvious examples, five out of six defense lawyers in the case known as “Shura Council” case were referred to prosecution for investigation throughout the trial.
Lawyer Khaled Ali was also referred to prosecution for contempt of the court while working on the “Cabinet clashes” case. These types of violations have continued to escalate since, with a lawyer being shot by a police officer in court last month.
Eid states that because of these types of incidents, it is important to protect lawyers, which, in turn, protects the rights of defendants.
“The current malfunction in the justice system increases the risk not only on lawyers but on the whole trajectory of justice,” Eid says, referring to mounting accusations of the politicization of the Egyptian judiciary.
Ezzat agrees, saying that the syndicate’s attempt to provide legal cover for lawyers is a good initiative, given the violations they face which include assault, detention, and denied access to courts and the defendants they represent.