In a rare move, a group of lawyers publicly refused to continue representing their clients before a Cairo judge, in protest of what they said was a “lack of response” from the court to repeated requests to free defendants being held in remand detention.
Attorney Ahmed Saad announced the lawyers’ withdrawal from cases to judge Hassan Farid at the South Cairo Criminal Court on Saturday. “Your honor, we represent a number of cases under your consideration and we have opted to withdraw our representation before this court. Over the past several years, the court has ordered detention renewals on a continuous basis and not a single defendant has been released, despite the diversity of the cases and the varying legal statuses of those accused,” Saad reportedly told the judge.
Saad, who was delegated as the group’s spokesperson, told Mada Masr that he also drew the judge’s attention to the fact that defendants in similar cases had been released by other courts. He told Farid that this indicated that his court had a predisposition toward holding defendants in remand detention indefinitely, especially considering that the court had heard more than 50 cases over the past week — which included approximately 200 defendants — and did not release a single one.
“We believe the judge is prejudiced in these cases and there is no value in our presence before him,” Saad told Mada Masr. “It is my right to withdraw from the case if it is pointless to proceed.”
In response to the announcement, Farid requested that Saad remain as other lawyers left the courtroom and then ordered him to stand trial in disciplinary proceedings “for his failure to perform his duty.”
Defendants can languish for weeks, months, or even years in remand detention without ever being convicted of a crime. While there are no official figures for the number of people in remand detention in Egypt, in January 2018, Parliament’s Human Rights Committee head Alaa Abed estimated that there are 25,000–30,000 individuals held in remand detention in Egypt.
The majority of remand detention cases are tried before Judge Hassan Farid, who is known for extending detention periods without taking into account any humanitarian or health considerations, Mokhtar Mounir, a lawyer with the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression and a member of the group that withdrew from the court, informed Mada Masr.
Mohamed Abdel Azim Karkab, a member of the Lawyers Syndicate board, told Mada Masr that, following the attorneys’ withdrawal on Saturday, the syndicate should have been informed so that other lawyers could have been appointed to represent the defendants in that session.
In the absence of legal representation, the court session should have been considered void, Karkab explained. Nevertheless, Farid continued the session and called upon the defendants to appear before him without lawyers, according to attorneys who spoke to Mada Masr. The court proceeded to hear 33 cases, which included 150 defendants in remand detention, none of which were released.
It was a collective agreement among the defense lawyers to withdraw from proceedings before Farid, according to Ahmed Abdel Latif, a lawyer with the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.
“It is pointless — Hassan Farid never accepts the defense’s requests for release,” he said. “We’ve been considering taking this step for a while, but a number of lawyers were initially against it, which delayed our action. However, we finally reached a consensus during our last discussion.”
He added that the decision to withdraw was a way to deliver a message to Farid that lawyers are aware that “it is predetermined decision, so extend and renew the detention as you please. We feel our presence has become unnecessary.”