Egypt’s judges reject new bill on judiciary

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian judges rejected Friday a bill on the judiciary, with their elected body saying it does not ensure judicial independence and allows the state to retain too much power.

In a statement issued after a five-hour meeting at its Cairo headquarters, the Judges Club said: “The Egyptian people have put their confidence in us and we will press ahead with our demands for independence.” On Saturday, the lower house of parliament is scheduled to debate the bill, which President Hosni Mubarak’s government is trying to pass despite criticism from the judges and opposition parties.

The upper house of parliament passed the bill earlier this week. Both houses are dominated by members of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.

The campaign for judicial independence became a national issue earlier this year when two pro-reform judges publicly accused certain colleagues of colluding in fraud in their monitoring of the November-December elections that returned the National Democratic Party to power. In the statement Friday, the Judges Club, which represents thousands of judges, said members would continue to press for the legislature to amend the bill so as to give judges more freedom. The statement said the government had responded to some of their demands, but it had ignored others that aimed to ensure judicial freedom in interpreting law.

The statement did not say what steps the judges would take if the parliament passes the bill, as is expected.

One of the two judges who blew the whistle on electoral fraud, Mahmoud Mekki, said if parliament passed the bill, “we will ask the club’s general assembly to take an appropriate decision.” He said the draft law gives the government a large say in the selection of judges and in running the judicial system.

The bill provides greater autonomy to the prosecutor general and enhances the authority of the judicial council, a body of judges appointed by the government. But the bill’s failure to mention the elected body, the Judges Club, suggests the government is slamming the door on the influential movement for political reform that has emerged among judges during the past year.

Earlier this year, Judge Mekki and his colleague Hesham Al Bastawisy were hauled before a judicial disciplinary board after they spoke to the press about judicial collusion in electoral fraud.

The two judges became symbols of the struggle for democracy. Numerous demonstrations were staged in their support and human rights groups’ condemned the disciplinary proceedings.

Last month, the disciplinary panel reprimanded Bastawisy but cleared Mekki. 

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