File photo: Ahmed El Zend (C), head of Egypt's Judges Club, speaks during an emergency meeting held by Egyptian judges at the High Judicial complex in downtown Cairo, April 24, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)
Egypt's upper house of parliament, the Shura Council, will discuss a disputed law on the judiciary on 25 May, in a move that opponents of the law have strongly criticised and which has led representatives of the judiciary to drop out of a proposed judicial reform conference with President Morsi.
The draft bill, which would regulate aspects of judges’ work, has been fiercely opposed by many judges.
An agreement was reached between President Mohamed Morsi’s administration, which supports the bill, and judges’ representatives, to hold a conference to discuss judicial reform prior to moving forward with any changes. A preparatory session of the conference has already been held.
Some Shura Council members, mainly from the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, officially requested hastening the discussion of the draft legislation, Al-Ahram daily newspaper reported on Wednesday.
The decision provoked major dispute during Tuesday's session between the Brotherhood-led majority and some opposing members, including those of the ultraconservative Nour Party, once a strong ally of the Islamist group but has been supporting judges in the ongoing saga.
Critics believe that attempts to hasten the passing of the legislation fly in the face of legal and constitutional norms and would make the president-sponsored judicial conference redundant.
The Judges’ Club, an informal judges union, announced it would officially boycott the second session of the conference in protest at the parliament's re-consideration of what it described as a "dubious law."
In a Wednesday statement, the club made it clear it had only agreed to take part in the conference on condition that the contentious draft law is scrapped.
Egypt's Supreme Judicial Council announced the second session of the reform conference had been suspended, state-run news agency MENA said on Wednesday. A statement by the council said the decision followed liaison with Egypt's top courts.
The draft bill, which would lower the retirement age of judges from 70 to 60, has been strongly censured by judicial figures and critics on the grounds that it will forcibly retire up to 3,500 incumbent judges.
Morsi's Islamist allies proposed the law with the ostensible aim of “purging” the judiciary of corrupt judges. However, opponents say the move is part of a general Brotherhood strategy of inserting Islamist sympathisers into senior positions in the state bureaucracy.