On June 6, Parliament approved two laws that regulate how the heads of Egypt’s top judicial bodies are selected, granting the president greater powers over the appointment process. The laws were approved by a two-thirds majority.
A third law to establish the Council of Judicial Bodies headed by the president, who would dictate the terms of judicial appointments, promotions and delegates, has stalled due to an ongoing dispute between the justice minister and the speaker of parliament, according to judicial and parliamentary sources.
Critics say the three laws are part of a broader effort to undermine judicial independence and erode the separation of powers by giving the president greater control over the judiciary. The laws build off a set of controversial constitutional amendments approved in April that revised articles related to the judiciary and also included changes to allow President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to extend his term in office until 2030.
The two laws approved by Parliament earlier this month grant the president the power to select the heads of judicial bodies, including the Supreme Constitutional Court, Administrative Prosecution Authority, and the State Council. They stipulate that each of the country’s top judicial bodies is to nominate its seven most senior members for the position. The president would then choose one to head the body for one four-year term. The head of the Supreme Constitutional Court is selected from among its five most senior deputies.
The laws also give the president the right to appoint the public prosecutor from among three judges nominated by the Supreme Judicial Council.
Passage of the two laws before June 30, when Parliament is scheduled to go into recess for the summer, was a priority, according to MP Ehab al-Tamawy, a deputy in the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee. He says the heads of a number of judicial bodies are approaching retirement age and the new law will govern how their successors are appointed.
There was no official explanation for the stayed vote on the third law that would set up the Council of Judicial Bodies, but judicial and parliamentary sources pointed to an ongoing dispute between Justice Minister Hossam Abdel Raheem and Speaker Ali Abdel Aal. Sources say it is unlikely that Parliament will pass the law before its next session, which begins on October 1.
The idea of establishing a Council of Judicial Bodies headed by the president has a lengthy historical precedent in the years-long, seesaw struggle over judicial independence.
The Council of Judicial Bodies would determine the conditions for judicial appointments in ordinary courts, the State Council, Administrative Prosecution Authority and other judicial bodies, in addition to determining the rules for appointments and promotions in each body. It would also issue opinions on draft laws related to the judiciary. The council would be comprised of the heads of various judicial agencies, including the Constitutional Court, the Court of Cassation, the State Council, the military judiciary, and the Administrative Prosecution, and would be headed by the president.
According to a source from Parliament’s General Secretariat, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition on anonymity, the latest dispute centers on the location and powers of the Council of Judicial Bodies. Abdel Aal believes the draft law, which was prepared by the justice minister, diminishes the authority of the council by omitting any reference to the council’s right to “discipline judges,” a right that is laid out in the constitutional amendments. The draft law also grants the council a number of additional powers related to the appointment of judges that are not called for in the constitution.
The source adds that Abdel Aal is also opposed to what he sees as Abdel Raheem’s attempt to assert control over the council by including the stipulation in the draft law that “the council will have a secretariat based in the justice ministry,” thereby locating the headquarters of the council inside the justice ministry where meetings would be held and its work overseen.
After Parliament approved the constitutional amendments, Abdel Aal tried to exclude the justice minister from the formation of the council entirely. The source says that Abdel Aal has issued orders to postpone any discussion of the law until the justice minister responds to his objections.
One day after the National Elections Authority announced that the constitutional amendments had passed the referendum, the justice minister sent the three draft laws to the heads of judicial bodies, according to a source from the justice ministry. He attached a letter addressed to each body asking them to offer their opinion on the draft laws. According to the source, there were no objections from the agencies to any of the three laws.
The judicial source says that Abdel Raheem has not responded to Abdel Aal because the judicial bodies themselves gave their approval to the draft law as written.
The source from Parliament’s General Secretariat expects that President Sisi will have to intervene to break the stalemate.