INTERVIEW: Chairman of Egyptian Judges Club says some int’l organisations have double standards

Sherif Aref , Sunday 14 Feb 2021

Chancellor Mohamed Abdel-Mohsen spoke to Ahram Online on issues of judicial independence, media comments on the work of the judiciary, and mechanisms to mete prompt justice while protecting rights and freedoms

The chairman of the Judges
Chancellor Mohamed Abdel-Mohsen

Egypt’s Judges Club was founded in 1939, but it was 70 years ago, in 1951, that the club opened its present headquarters in downtown Cairo in a celebration attended by Egypt’s former King Farouk.

Chancellor Mohamed Abdel-Mohsen presides over Egypt’s Judges Club.

This is the second tenure for Abdel-Mohsen after he was re-elected for the position by his fellow judges.

Abdel-Mohsen, who is also one of the deputies to the head of Egypt’s Court of Cassation, speaks to Ahram Online about the independence of the judiciary, judicial immunity, and attacks orchestrated by “channels of evil on the platforms of justice,” given that it is one of the country’s institutional pillars.

Ahram Online: How did the Judges Club come into being?

Mohamed Abdel-Mohsen: On 10 February 1939, a meeting was held to convene a Constituent General Assembly. Judges present at the meeting agreed to establish a club to bolster the bond of brotherhood and solidarity between judges.

The bylaws of the club’s statute were drafted and a board was formed with the chairmanship of Mahmoud Fahmy Youssef Pasha, the head of the Egyptian Court of Appeals at the time. The club was officially inaugurated by King Farouk on 10 February 1951.

AO: Is the Egyptian judiciary independent enough?

MA: The independence of the judiciary and judicial immunity, as stated in international covenants, are not a gift to judges. They are rather two basic guarantees to ensure the submission of every individual and entity, including the state, to the rule of law and to protect rights and freedoms.

The basic principle is that the judiciary is independent, and any violation of this principle, every interference in the work of the judiciary on the part of the other two government authorities or public opinion, or compromising its integrity, inevitably breaches the balance of justice and undermines the foundations of judgement.

That the judge carries on his mission freely, independently, reassured, and feeling safe about his fate is the greatest guarantee for both the ruler and the layman.

The true independence of the judiciary requires that all its affairs be managed in accordance with the provisions of the constitution and by the judges themselves.

Sherif Aref interviews Chancellor Mohamed Abdel-Mohsen

AO: Where does the Judges Club stand on criticisms directed to the Egyptian judicial system by some international organisations over certain issues?

MA: Criticisms directed by some organisations and countries are focused on two types of cases: those related to the death penalty; and others concerning freedoms. If we assume these parties have good intentions – which is debatable in some cases – we refer it back to differing concepts or false or incomplete information.

As far as the death penalties are concerned, most of the objections to death sentences stem from the fact that this punishment is not acknowledged in the legislation of some of these countries. In Egypt, the death penalty is approved by Sharia and the law. In some instances, the international organisations are not aware of the guarantees in Egyptian law that are implemented before the penalty is executed.

The judje's chamber has to unanimously approve the death sentence. Then the grand mufti is consulted on the legality of the ruling. After that, the prosecution is mandated to appeal the ruling, which is then reviewed by the Court of Cassation. These are all sufficient steps before such a heavy punishment is enforced.

The second type is concerned with freedoms. In addition to the fact that they [some countries and international organisations] are accustomed to double standards in this matter, Egypt is targeted by domestic and foreign terrorism.

Egypt prioritises their security and stability in a manner that does not violate the rights and freedoms of their citizens.

Egypt’s constitution and laws include many guarantees of human rights, while judicial rulings established many of them and have distinguished between what is a right and what is not.

However, Egypt, like other countries, still needs more regulations and practices that ensure greater activation of these guarantees in a civilised manner and under acceptable conditions that do not harm the stability of the nation.

In all cases, the Egyptian state should respond to these criticisms. The Judges Club also responds with a detailed statement in a timely manner.

However, we hope that the response will be institutionalised and in coordination between all concerned parties in order to achieve the goal of clarifying the image and refuting claims.

AO: What do you think about media outlets that debate judicial rulings?

MA: According to the law, there should not be any comments on judicial rulings. Provisions can be criticised through appeals or through legal analysis after they have become final with the aim of study and research. Other than that, debating judgments is considered an attempt to affect the proper course of justice, which is criminalised by law.

AO: Do judges get upset when they or the judicial system is criticised?

MA: We are never upset when we hear constructive criticism. After all, we are human beings and we may err. But what truly makes us upset is the criticism that maliciously targets the judges and the judiciary.

AO: Some people believe that judges are a privileged group in society, for whom the state provides many benefits, such as immunity, salaries that reach or exceed the maximum wage, medical treatment at the state's expense at home and abroad, and free transportation.

MA: This is not true. It is because judges commit to silence that these rumours are fabricated about them. I challenge anyone to prove a judge has ever benefited from immunity. On the contrary, immunity is a basic guarantee to the litigants, not the judges, because it is a judge’s guarantor to administer justice without fearing anyone but God.

As for the judges’ salaries, which are frequently discussed [in the media], they do not in any way exceed half of the maximum wage in Egypt. The judges pay from their salaries for their transportation and residence and buy legal books and references.

It is also not true that judges are medically treated at the state’s expense, although naturally they should be, being a stratum of the social fabric after all. But in fact, judges receive medical treatment through the Ministry of Justice’s Healthcare Services Fund, which is based on subscriptions made by judges. However, due to the lack of finances in this fund, the Judges Club set up an additional fund to cover the treatment of cases the Healthcare Services Fund cannot afford to pay for.

Furthermore, based on the nature of their occupation, judges travel a lot and the majority of them work in a city different than where they reside. In transportation, judges either use their private vehicles or public transport, which are paid for in advance from the budget of the judicial authority.

AO: The general public believe positions in the judiciary are passed on like an inheritance. Is this true?

MA: I have frequently heard this question. Maybe people do not know that according to the law, there are certain conditions that should be met before the appointment of a judge. If a judge’s son meets all the conditions, should he be banned from working in the judiciary? I challenge anyone to prove that the appointed sons of judges do not meet all the criteria. The majority of sons of judges have earned high scores to be qualified to work in the judiciary.

In addition, it is the Supreme Judicial Council that selects the judges to be appointed based on several criteria, including university score and place of residence.

AO: What do you think is the Egyptian public’s perception of the judiciary?

MA: We believe the majority of Egyptians trust the judicial system, and we endeavour to boost this trust. It is also not true that judges keep away from the people. The truth is, a host of judicial traditions and values govern the life of a judge, including not getting involved in many social relationships lest they one day they affect a judge’s impartiality, which is a basic element to achieve justice.

AO: Are judges held accountable?

MA: Of course, there is accountability for judges and it is even more severe than for any other party. Suspicion, not proof, can condemn judges. They are held accountable according to standards set by the judicial inspection for accountability, whether from a professional or behavioural point of view.

AO: What is the relationship between the Judges Club and the state?

MA: The judiciary has always been respected by the state. Channels of communication are open with the state and the relationship is governed by amicability and mutual respect, with all state institutions, to achieve public interests and help judges on their mission in a manner that preserves their dignity.

AO: When do the judges rise up in anger?

MA: Egypt’s judges have never demanded more than legitimate rights to achieve the independence of the judiciary, preserve their dignity, and receive the things that guarantee them a decent life that help them fulfil their noble mission of achieving justice. In making their demands, judges always abide by the law and prioritise public interest. They follow legitimate means to defend their rights, and they only speak out loud when the official channels turn a deaf ear.

AO: Some media outlets and news websites reported recently on a conflict between judges regarding laws governing the judiciary. Do judges sometimes refrain from applying the law?

MA: Egypt is a state of institutions and it is governed by the rule of law, and no authority can violate the law or object to its implementation. These malicious websites aimed to slander and undermine the judiciary.

These are the channels of evil that hate Egypt and its judiciary. As is their habit, they misuse some situations and take sentences out of their context to stir public opinion.

In a timely fashion, we respond to these evil voices. It is important to reiterate that these channels’ lies will not discourage the honourable people of this great nation from serious and purposeful dialogue for what is in the public good of the nation.

AO: What is the relationship between the Judges Club, the Supreme Judicial Council and the justice minister?

MA: The esteemed Supreme Judicial Council regulates the affairs of the judiciary in Egypt. The minister of justice is a distinguished judicial authority and has an honourable history in the judiciary, and is a competent statesman. He is a young man with a developed intellect and an enlightened vision. The Judges Club is supported by the council and the minister, and there is constant effective coordination between the three bodies to serve the nation and the judiciary.

AO: But you have always demanded the necessity to amend the Judicial Authority Law, and to transfer the judicial inspection subordination from the Ministry of Justice to the Supreme Judicial Council.

MA: Indeed, we have, and we will keep on requesting that this demand be fulfilled. We will insist on amending several articles in the Judicial Authority Law to ensure swift justice and the independence of the judiciary. This matter has nothing to do with our confidence in the minister of justice and our colleagues in judicial inspection. However, these are guarantees stipulated in international conventions for the independence of the judiciary.

AO: When will the Judicial Authority Law be amended?

MA: When all parties are fully convinced of the importance of amending the law for the sake of the independence of the judiciary and for the proper functioning of justice, preserving the international status of the Egyptian judiciary and advancing economic development. We hope the bill will see the light of day in the new parliament.

AO: Demands abound to achieve prompt justice. Who is responsible for achieving it, and when and how can it be achieved?

MA: Prompt justice means issuing judgements quickly without breaching the guarantees of litigation. Unfortunately, we have not yet reached this stage in Egypt. Putting the responsibility for the slow litigation completely on the shoulders of the judiciary is not fair. There are many factors that result in the slow issuing of judgements, factors in which all state institutions take part.

Honestly, we do need prompt justice, because slow justice is close to injustice. The options suggested so far, such as amending some articles, have not been studied well and will not achieve the purpose.

The solution, from our point of view, is for the political leadership to order that every authority bears its responsibility within the framework of a strategic plan sponsored by the state, and we, on our part, have an integrated strategic plan for the development of the justice system that deserves to be taken into account when preparing any future plans in this regard.

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