Egypt’s parliament approved on Monday an amendment to Article 186 of the penal code criminalising filming, taking photos or recording court hearings in a criminal case without prior permission from the presiding judge and the approval of the prosecutor-general.
A report prepared by the House's legislative and constitutional affairs committee said the amendment is constitutional because it goes in line with Article 187 of the constitution, which states that court hearings are generally open, but in certain cases the court may decide that the hearings are held in secret in observance of public order and ethics.
"As a result, Article 186 of the penal code will be amended to impose a fine ranging from EGP 100,000 to EGP 300,000 on those who take photos or record the words or parts of the court hearing of a criminal case without taking prior permission from the presiding judge and the prosecution general," said the report, adding that "the devices used in taking photos or recording court hearings without permission will be confiscated."
The committee said the amendment was necessary in order to prevent the handling of court hearings on social media in a way that could do a lot of harm to defendants.
However, Ayman Mehaseb, a Wafd Party MP, said the amendment violates the constitution, which states that court hearings shall be open and public.
"While the constitution says court hearings may be secret in very few exceptional cases, this amendment gives judges and the prosecution a free hand to break the principle of the openness of court hearings," said Mehaseb.
Agreeing with Mehaseb, Wafdist MP Amira Abu Shoqa also argued that the constitution states that court hearings should be public and open in most cases.
"Not to mention that the principle of openness of court hearings is important because it guarantees transparency and fairness of court trials," said Abu Shoqa.
The House also approved on Monday the amendment of the Law on Notarisation and Documentation Fees 70/1964.
The government-drafted law aims to impose a notarisation fee of 0.5 percent (a maximum of EGP 100,000) on all companies which have business in foreign markets and aim to submit its pre-qualification works and budget to international circles.
"Under the current law, contracting companies are exempted from this notarisation fee," said a House report, adding that "the amendment aims to put all companies on an equal footing, obliging them to pay a reduced notarisation fee of 0.5 percent."
Ibrahim El-Heneidy, chairman of the House's legislative and constitutional affairs committee, said the amendment aims to facilitate the investment climate for all national companies operating in and outside Egypt.
"The performance of the majority of strong economies depends on the active performance of their national companies in local and foreign markets," said El-Heneidy, adding that "the amendment also aims to encourage Egyptian national companies to boost their exports in foreign markets and to also help them compete for international tenders."
Heneidy indicated that "more business for Egyptian companies in foreign markets means more inflows of foreign currency and more demand on Egyptian workers abroad."
Parliament speaker Hanafi Gibali said the two legislative amendments will be put up for a final vote in a later session. Gibali said the House's new plenary meetings will be held on 23 May.