Analysts decry proposal allowing judges to ignore witness testimonies

Planned amendments to the Criminal Procedures Law would give the court the power to disregard witness testimonies during a trial, the privately owned newspaper Al-Shorouk reported Thursday.

In a Cabinet meeting, ministers discussed a proposal to amend Articles 277 and 289 of the law, which oblige judges to hear witnesses for both the defense and the prosecution. These articles were a key component of the checks and balances guaranteeing fairness in judicial proceedings. But the proposed amendments would give judges the freedom to overlook testimonies at will.

The amendments have already been sent to the State Council for final review and approval.

Government sources claimed the amendments would save time in trials, allowing “the principle of prompt justice without sacrificing the rights of the disputing sides. Judges in criminal courts can enact their own wisdom according to the evidence they see.”

Houda Nasrallah, a criminal justice researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), slammed the amendments.

The proposed legislation opens the door for evading justice, rather than achieving it, she told Mada Masr. The obligation to listen to different witnesses, especially defense witnesses, is important to truly serve justice, she insisted.

“Listening to defense witnesses is important to preserve the rights of the defendants. [The amendments are] a form of selective justice,” she argued.

Nasrallah believes the amendments are politically motivated.

“Many of the harsh prison sentences against political defendants were overturned by the Appeals Court simply because judges did not listen to defense witnesses,” she explained. Nasrallah pointed to appeals of verdicts in the “Mariott cell” case against Al Jazeera journalists, the mass death sentences for hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Minya, and death sentences for those accused of killing police officer Nabil Farrag in Kerdasa in 2013.

“In all of these cases, the rulings were overturned because the Appeals Court found out that courts did not listen to defense witnesses. The regime is thus trying to obstruct appeals against politicized verdicts,” she asserted.

“We definitely call for prompt justice, but this should not happen at the expense of the rights of the defendants,” she added. “This will not bring prompt justice, but helpless justice.” 

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