Egypt top judges call on Morsi to visit High Court in 'gesture of goodwill'

Salma Shukrallah, Nada Hussein Rashwan, Tuesday 30 Apr 2013

Egypt's highest judicial authority invites President Morsi to visit the High Court following an earlier meeting aimed at containing mounting tension between judges and the presidency

Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi meeting with Egypt's senior judges (Photo: President Mohamed Morsi's official Facebook page.)

The head of Egypt's Supreme Judicial Council extended on Tuesday an invitation to President Mohamed Morsi to visit the headquarters of the High Court, saying that the visit would be “an expression of the start of goodwill towards the judiciary.”

Judge Mohamed Metwally’s statement came after a three-hour judicial conference that was held at the High Court in Cairo, attended by the Judges Club, an informal judges’ syndicate, as well as the board and members of the Supreme Judicial Council, to discuss initial details of an upcoming "justice conference" initiative to contain the tension between the judiciary on one hand, and the presidency and Islamist forces on the other.

It was also discussed during the meeting that the sessions of the justice conference should be held at the High Court, not the presidential palace, although no agreement was reached.

Head of the Judges Club Ahmed El-Zend had announced on Monday that the he did not approve of a judges’ conference sponsored by the presidency, on the grounds that it would be a form of infringement. He instead invited Morsi for a meeting with the Judges Club members.

Following Tuesday’s meeting, Metwally said that the two judicial bodies will not be taking legal measures against "any judge or institution" amid the exchange of criticism between some top judges, most notably El-Zend, and Egypt's Islamist parties during the past weeks.

Metwally went on to announce that he had asked the judges during the meeting not to make media appearances, in an ostensible attempt to limit controversy.

Morsi had agreed with Egypt's heads of top judicial bodies during a meeting on Sunday that a "justice conference" would be held soon, where he would adopt their proposals for a new judicial authority law in hopes of containing mounting tension.

The Muslim Brotherhood, has along with other Islamist political groups been calling on the Shura Council (the upper house of Egypt's parliament, currently endowed with legislative powers) to pass a new judicial authority law. The new law would see the retirement age for judges lowered from 70 to 60, an outcome that judges say would lead to the forced retirement around 25 percent of Egypt's 13,000 judges and prosecutors.

The Judges Club is also to propose on Tuesday their own version of the judicial authority law.

The tensions between Egypt's presidency and the judiciary began in earnest last November, when Morsi issued a decree sacking Mubarak-era prosecutor-general Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud and replacing him with Talaat Abdullah.

The move prompted uproar among much of the judiciary, with a number of judges accusing Morsi of infringing on judicial independence. According to Egyptian law, they argued, the Supreme Judicial Council is the only entity with the right to appoint a new prosecutor-general.

On 19 April, the Muslim Brotherhood organised a Friday rally to demand a "purge" of Egypt's judiciary, in a move that some analysts feared would further damage the group's relationship with the nation's judges. Justice Minister Ahmed Mekki resigned a day later, complaining of insults directed at the judiciary by the Brotherhood. 

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