Parliament — the House of Representatives — is next week expected to discuss a new law regulating the Bar Association. The move comes after parliament’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee approved the law on 24 June. The law, proposed by MP Tharwat Bekheit, seeks to afford lawyers greater protection while working in court, doubles association revenues and sets up an academy to train recent law graduates.
In terms of protecting lawyers, the committee approved amended Article 49 which states that while working in courts, lawyers should be treated with all due respect. “And even if they cause some trouble during court hearings, they can face questioning but only in the presence of representatives from the Bar Association or any of its branches in governorates,” Article 49 states.
Article 50 states that lawyers shall not be arrested or placed in custody if they voice or issue insulting comments while working in courts. “The only measure in such a case is that they will face a closed-door trial which representatives from the Bar Association should attend,” Article 50 says.
Article 51 states that judges shall not be allowed to order the arrest of lawyers being accused of a felony or misdemeanour related to their job and while they are working in courts. “The matter should be consulted first with the appeal prosecution and the Bar Association,” the article says, adding that “the head of the Bar Association or any of its representatives will be allowed to attend the questioning of lawyers in such a case, and to receive copies of the interrogation.”
The same article also states that only senior members of the prosecution-general will be allowed to search and inspect a lawyer’s office. “In such a case, prosecution authorities should inform the board of the Bar Association in advance and the head of investigating complaints filed against lawyers in this respect,” Article 51 stipulates.
Amended Article 90 gives the board of the Bar Association the right to penalise lawyers or order that they be suspended from work. “A disciplinary committee will be formed to take a final decision on the matter within 30 days,” says Article 90.
The committee’s MPs also approved Article 14 which states that lawyers cannot be named as speakers of any of parliament’s two chambers — the House of Representatives and the Senate. “If a lawyer is named as parliamentary speaker, he/she shall resign as a practising lawyer in order to be fully devoted to his or her parliamentary job,” said Article 14.
MP Bekheit said the amendments are not new. “It was part of the old law, and former lawyer Fathi Sorour resigned when he was named parliament speaker in 1990,” said Bekheit, adding that “it was amended because the name of parliament changed from the People’s Assembly to the House of Representatives, and the Shura Council to the Senate.”
Regulating the Bar Association
The committee’s deputy chairman, Ahmed Helmi Al-Sherif, said parliamentary speakers are considered heads of the legislative authority. “Maintaining their job as lawyers in such a case will represent a conflict of interest,” Al-Sherif said.
On the other hand, the committee approved Article 9 which states that the lawyers’ profession should not be considered profit-seeking, and so should be exempted from the value-added tax (VAT).
MPs also approved a new chapter that will be added to the law under the title The Academy of Law and Legal and Judicial Studies. “To be affiliated to the Bar Association, the proposed academy will have complete technical, financial and administrative independence,” Article 23 states, adding that “those seeking to join the Bar Association for the first time must pass a one-year study period at the academy which is expected to open in January 2022.”
Article 23 also states that those seeking to join the Bar Association will be required to pass a written exam held twice a year.
The law states that a lawyer seeking to join the Bar Association must have Egyptian nationality, a high school certificate, and be a graduate of any of the faculties of law in Egypt. “Foreign lawyers can do business in Egypt only after they get a licence from the Bar Association and once they meet a number of technical and financial conditions,” said Article 13.
Bekheit insisted that the draft law hinders graduates of so-called open education universities joining the association. “Since these kinds of graduate is not allowed to join the judiciary or the prosecution, they should not be equally allowed to join the Bar Association,” Bekheit argued. Approving, MP Salah Abdel-Badie said the low standard of open education is enough reason not to allow graduates in this sector to join the Bar Association.
Other MPs, however, differed with Bekheit, arguing that the stipulation was discriminatory and does injustice to graduates of open education. “Not to mention that graduates in this sector who won many court rulings in their favour are asking the Bar Association to accept them as members,” said MP Mohamed Al-Husseini.
The majority of MPs, however, voted in favour of preventing open education graduates from joining the Bar Association.
The committee also approved the new text of Article 128 which allows the general assembly of the Bar Association to hold an extraordinary meeting under the request of the bar’s board or under a written petition signed by no less than 1,000 members. “The petition should give reasons why the general assembly should be held, and if approved the assembly should meet within 30 days of the approval date,” said Article 128.
Article 129 will allow an extraordinary meeting of the general assembly to withdraw confidence from the head of the Bar Association or any of the members of its board. “But in order for a request in this respect to be viable, it should be signed by at least a fifth of the votes that the head of the Bar Association receives, and that the meeting of the general assembly be attended by at least a tenth of its members (members of Egypt’s Bar Association is estimated at 600,000).
The proposed law caused controversy last week when MPs affiliated with the leftist 25-30 bloc charged that it aims to keep the association’s current board of directors in place, and allows its head, Sameh Ashour, to run for an additional four-year term. The leftist MPs also accused the committee’s chairman, Bahaaeddin Abu Shokka of orchestrating the debate to serve Ashour’s interests. As a result, Abu Shokka decided to stop chairing the meetings, with MPs instead choosing deputy Ahmed Kamel Al-Sherif to head the debate.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Regulating the Bar Association