The crisis over the law on judicial authorities’ appointments continues as over 600 State Council judges rejected the bill recently passed by Parliament, which allows the president to designate judicial heads.
In a general assembly held on Monday and led by head of the State Council Mohamed Masoud, the State Council judges insisted on the seniority principle, the long-standing basis for judicial appointments. The judges delegated Masoud to take their objection to the president.
The bill, preliminarily approved by Parliament last week, gives the president the power to appoint the heads of Egypt’s top four judicial bodies: the Supreme Judicial Council, the State Council, the Administrative Prosecution and the State Lawsuits Authority. The appointment would be based on three recommendations submitted by each of the four authorities from among the seven oldest aides to the departing head. The appointment is for a four-year term, which can be cut short by retirement age.
The law will undergo another round of voting in Parliament, requiring a two-thirds majority, after the State Council gives its non-binding opinion, as stipulated by the Constitution which dictates a review of all laws passed by Parliament.
Parliamentary bylaws state that it may send a draft law to the presidency for direct approval if the State Council does not submit its review within 30 days.
The law was first proposed by Ahmed Helmy al-Sherif, the deputy of Parliament’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee and member of the state-aligned Alliance to Support Egypt.
Additions to the law by its author 24 hours before it passed gave the right to the president to appoint the heads of judicial bodies without the recommendations of judges if they fail to present them 60 days before the end of the departing head’s term, if they present fewer than three candidates or if they include candidates who do not meet the criteria.
The law has sparked outrage among judges in different authorities, who see it is a flagrant executive intervention that curtails their independence.
According to deputy head of the State Council Mahmoud Zaki, several attendees requested Judge Yehia Dakroury, first deputy of the current State Council head, be nominated for the position of council president.
A judicial source speaking on condition of anonymity previously told Mada that there has been speculation that the law was tailored to block Dakroury and another judge, Anas Ali Abdallah Omara, from reaching top posts.
This is believed to be a due to the ruling Dakroury, as head of the Administrative Court, passed in June against a contentious maritime border agreement to transfer the sovereignty of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.
Omara, meanwhile, issued a Court of Cassation ruling to annul all death penalties based solely on National Security investigations.
Dakroury refused the proposal for his appointment, as the meeting did not meet the quorum required to vote on such a matter. He asserted that he rejects the deflection of the meeting from its original purpose, which is to survey judges’ opinion on the law, adding, “What I care about is judicial customs and the application of the State Council law.”
“Judge Dakroury could have taken advantage of the situation but he upheld the law and judicial customs,” the State Council deputy head told Mada Masr. “We are ruled by judicial customs and the seniority principle is the basis of judicial independence.”
Zaki added that members of the State Council’s legislative committee abstained from attending the meeting in order to avoid a conflict of interest.
Judge Hassan Badrawy, who also attended the meeting, said that the general assembly will prepare a legal memo for the presenting, detailing their observations of the law, asserting their absolute rejection of the undermining of the seniority principle. This principle, Badrawy explained, allows the appointment of top judicial posts in an objective manner, unaffected by personal interests or preferences.
After the meeting, the head of the State Council issued a statement urging the president to intervene and uphold the separation of powers, arguing that the same principle that prohibits the president from appointing the parliamentary speaker and members of Parliament should apply to the judiciary as well.